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The good news for Jim and Jean Harrison was that they successfully evacuated their 127-space RV park in Slidell, La., before Hurricane Katrina hit.
The bad news is that their park, located roughly 30 miles northeast of New Orleans, was right where the eye of Hurricane Katrina hit.
“The impact is devastating,” said Jim Harrison, who also owns Santa Rosa, Calif.-based JWH Distributing, which manufactures Eco-Save, a chemical free holding tank product for RVs.
Harrison said he plans to fly to Louisiana this week, partly to assess the damage to his park and partly to hook up with representatives from his bank and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whom he hasn’t been able to reach by phone.
“We’ve owned mobile home parks in the past. But this was our first RV park,” Harrison said. “We just purchased it less than three months ago.”
The Harrisons have flood insurance, but they were unable to obtain contents coverage. “We’re just going to go step by step,” Harrison said.
Many parks are facing similar situations. In fact, it could be months before everyone knows the full extent of damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina on the campground sector.
Interruptions in basic services, such as telephone and electric service, have made it difficult for campground industry officials to fully assess Katrina’s impact on private parks across the Gulf Coast region in the days immediately after the hurricane struck.
“We have not heard from other parks, nor has LTPA (Louisiana Travel Promotion Association), which has sporadic electrical service in Baton Rouge,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC).
Meanwhile, residents of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans were seeking temporary accommodations in campgrounds and RV parks across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and eastern Texas.
Here’s a sampling of some of the latest developments involving the campgrounds and RV parks in Gulf Coast states:
• The Escapees RV Club is providing a month’s worth of free camping to hurricane victims and to federal disaster relief crews at its parks in Livingston, Texas, and Summerdale, Ala., according to Escapees CEO Cathie Carr. Additionally, a group of Escapees called the DOVEs, the Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees, are assisting with relief efforts.
• The Jellystone Park Camp Resort in Robert, La., was hosting evacuees and running out of supplies, despite having no electrical power, said Dean Crawford, senior vice president of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Jellystone Parks.
• Camper and RV spaces were reportedly in short supply in Morgan City, La., roughly 85 miles west of New Orleans, according to The Daily Review in Morgan City, although some spaces remained available for people with self-contained units.
• New Orleans refugees were also finding shelter at the 50-site Nights RV Park in Baton Rouge, La. Park Manager Demetrio Mares said that people are coming from all over to park their RVs, mostly on return trips to get closer to home. “We’re about full,” he said, but the park is also allowing those in cars and other vehicles to use showers and other facilities, and to spend one night in their vehicles while they try to find their way home or to a more permanent facility.
Mares said he’s also been busy with people coming back from Texas and other areas farther away, where they escaped to before the hurricane. Now, he said, they are trying to get as close to home as possible. “I have a lot of people calling,” Mares said. “I hate to turn them down.” The park sustained minor damage with downed branches from the high winds, but that was being cleaned away before Labor Day.
• At Chase’s RV Park in New Iberia, La., about 60 miles from New Orleans, a steady stream of people were coming in, supplementing those who were at the 80-site park before the hurricane hit. “We’ve had people here since Sunday (Aug. 28) and some of them are still here, and more are coming,” said Manager Robert Aymond. “They can’t get home.”
Aymond said his phone was constantly ringing with people asking if he had space. On Sept. 2, the park was about half full and ready for RVers. The park sustained no damage, aside from “some rain and a little wind,” Aymond said.
• Shady Acres in Mobile, Ala., was without power on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, though crews were working to restore it, according to Diane Seivert, who owns the park with her husband, Charles. The park was still open for business and had several RVs parked there. Its newest visitors included insurance adjusters who were coming to stay at the park while they did their work.