Swept up in the “crazy” aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana park operator Anne Pierson’s phone has been ringing off the hook lately as friends and business associates and members of the 10,000-member discount camping club she and husband Bob started, the Happy Camper Club, call to see how things are going.
At least the Piersons, the parents of 10, have a phone that will ring. That’s because, as owners of Shiloh Resorts in Monroe and St. Joseph, La., they weren’t in the hurricane’s direct line of fire. They live in northeast Louisiana about 250 miles north of the coast and, as a result, also still have electricity and water. But they’ve certainly found themselves on the front lines of this growing tragedy because, like scores of parks north of I-10 in Mississippi and Louisiana, they’ve been inundated with RV-driving hurricane refugees.
“At our two campgrounds here,” Pierson says in a note to members of the Circle of Trust network, a marketing organization she also helped launch, “we have over 200 storm victim families who are learning they have no homes to return to. Our phone systems here are working, but circuits are frequently busy, and it is heartbreaking to hear each story as more news becomes available.”
RV ownership was a real plus in this case, Pierson reports, because area shelters are full, and hotels and motels are allowing people to sleep in parking lots.
But the situation for the refugees, she confides, is worsening as the days go by. Many of them are young families who cannot afford to continue paying campsite rent; some left with only groceries from the fridge at home and are afraid to spend too much, as they are not sure when (or if) they can go home. The Piersons’ parks are serving breakfast and dinner each day to their campers and giving free campsites to those who cannot afford to pay for them. However, area resources are very stressed. RV supplies are sold out. Gas stations are running out of gas. And, because many of the victims left home at the last minute, they did not bring everything they needed for children, pets, etc.
The Piersons are doing everything they can to help, but wonder how long they can sustain support to so many families.
Not being one to take such adversity sitting down, Anne Pierson agreed to send us a column outlining some of her insights into all of this and to appeal – as she has already begun doing through her Circle of Trust network – to the rest of the industry for some level of orchestrated support.
Here it is:

Hurricane Katrina is already taking a toll on the RV industry, and as the days pass in Louisiana and Mississippi, the full impact of this disaster begins to reveal itself in unexpected ways.
In the early warning stages of the category four hurricane, RVs left the lower parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in droves, fortunate to escape the battering winds and rising waters with their families, pets, and hastily gathered possessions on board.
It is Thursday morning, four days after the storm, and the general assumption is that those who evacuated in their RVs are fine. They are not fine. They are afraid, running low on funds, in need of medicine refills which cannot be obtained, because they cannot reach their doctors. Today children will be enrolled in local schools in northeast Louisiana, because their schools are destroyed. Their parents’ jobs are now gone, and there is nothing left of the life they once knew.
They have to start over… somewhere.
Although families with RVs were more fortunate than the thousands of evacuees who are sleeping in cars and rest areas in the northern parts of these states, there are many unseen factors coming to the forefront which concern the RV industry at large. The immediate problems are basic: These families prepared for a “typical” hurricane evacuation, which is a three-day stay in a safe haven, then an immediate trip home to survey the damage and begin the necessary repairs. This time, there are hundreds of situations in which there are no homes to return to, no roads to drive home on, and these RVers find themselves unprepared for the problems they face in the coming weeks.
The Pierson family, owners of Shiloh Resorts in Monroe, La., is hosting over two hundred families at this time. The owners report that their guests are not only distressed; some are out of money, and many have learned that they lost everything. Others are still unable to get information about loved ones that stayed behind to weather the storm.
Southern Leisure Resort in Many is filled to capacity as well, and other RV parks cannot be reached for input on their needs as the telephone circuits remain jammed by emergency situations all over the state. The escalating situation in New Orleans leaves thousands of families with nowhere to go, and the remaining citizens are being evacuated as waters continue to rise in the city limits. The surreal atmosphere hanging over the two states at the moment is becoming more so by the moment as television interviews report the unthinkable – sharks swimming on submerged interstates, alligators roaming the streets, looting and civil disobedience, hunger, and conditions unimaginable to most American families.
The refugees are just beginning to realize the full scope of their desperate circumstances. There will be no payday for any of them on Friday. The few hundred dollars they brought with them for their short leave will soon be depleted.
RV parks in the northern areas of the states are feeling the pain as well. Hurricane evacuations are routine in these regions, and RVers fill the parks to capacity, giving the campground a financial boost for an unfortunate reason. Realizing the dire situation, the park hosts are now serving meals at their own expense, hosting RVers who can no longer pay for their sites and trying to gather local help for their guests, along with helping them to contact FEMA, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other charitable organizations for help. But the financial strain on these parks and other local businesses cannot be sustained as the coming months unfold, stressing the resources of these areas which escaped the hurricane, but which bear the burden of becoming home to the surge of fleeing residents from the South.
The impact on RV businesses in the two states, of course, was felt immediately. Gas prices jumped 41 cents in one day as truck stops along I-20 sold out of gas. RV dealers and campgrounds in the southern parts of Mississippi and Louisiana are unreachable, and have, with certainty, suffered damage, perhaps complete destruction. The RV industry must act immediately if the interests of RVers and RV businesses are to be protected in the coming months. Far-reaching consequences will begin locally, but will eventually impact the entire industry, as those who serve the RV community will have lost a significant portion of the recreational travelers now “living aboard” their RVs out of necessity. And the winter RV traditional trade in the South cannot be assumed in the southeast as RVers from northern states watch the reports and decide to avoid these two areas. Fuel prices, already a concern before the hurricane, will continue to rise as significant refineries are out of commission in the two states.
Steps must be taken now by all facets of the RV industry to help the RVing victims of this hurricane, the RV parks that will be, by default, the new home of these desperate travelers for the next few months. And the RV dealers in these states must be considered, as sales of recreational vehicles will presumably be low on the list of priorities for Louisiana and Mississippi residents.
An effort has already been put into action by leaders in the industry as RV companies come together to aid “their people.” The many other victims of the storm will receive the donations of millions of concerned Americans through national agencies, but the unique needs of RVers, campgrounds and RV dealers must be the responsibility of those who depend on them for their livelihood.
Early Wednesday morning, the Internet and phones were already alive with that effort. A wide array of companies and organizations are looking within to see what they can do. Our own Happy Camper Club forum was opened to campground owners as a bulletin board for park owners to communicate to the public their situations and what could be done, specifically, to help guests at each location. Columnist and website operator Chuck Woodbury indicated his willingness to drop his other projects to get involved in spreading the word to his list of over 100,000 RV travelers who may wish to help, and the Circle of Trust RV Family began accepting donations of RV products and will by week’s end open an online RV Hurricane Relief store to raise money for the RVing victims in need.
The store will be hosted at the expense of www.rvnewsdaily.com, as a donation to the effort. RV dealers are invited to contact the Circle of Trust RV Family, either to donate RV supplies or (if in Louisiana and Mississippi) to request assistance in the form of receiving orders from funds raised for RV supplies to be given for free to the victims staying in their areas.
Due to the fluid nature of the situation and the immediate response of the industry to help resolve it, information is best obtained by telephone. So, consider contacting Mark or Dawn Polk of RV Education 101 at (910) 484-7615 or myself, Anne Pierson of the Happy Camper Club at (866) 677-6453. Other companies will soon be helping to coordinate these efforts, and updates will be provided to the industry with the help of RV Business as efforts progress.