Countless RV parks from eastern Texas to the northern areas of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia provided emergency shelter over the Labor Day weekend for some of the nearly 2 million evacuees fleeing Hurricane Gustav.
Eight deaths were attributed to the storm in the U.S. after it killed at least 94 people across the Caribbean.
Evacuees couldn’t say enough good things about Tom Landis, owner of the Shreveport/Bossier City KOA, located in the northwest corner of Louisiana.
Landis was booked full for the Labor Day weekend but on Wednesday (Aug. 27) when officials urged the evacuation along the Gulf, he canceled all reservations to make room for the evacuees.
“We’re at 170% capacity,” he told RVBusiness. “Sites are double-packed. They’re in Class A’s, B’s, pop-ups, trailers, tents, you name it. I’ve even got someone in a 1956 trailer. But we’ve kept our standards. I’m not letting ‘junk’ in here. But it’s a time to bend the rules.”
He didn’t charge for extra people, even though “we have people on top of people,” he continued. “We gave 15% off to seniors and probably gave away 15% in free nights.”
When a truck stop down the road charged $10 and $15 to National Guardsmen for a shower, they turned to Landis, who provided free showers. Hundreds took advantage of the offer.
“One guardsman got off her truck and told me, ‘You’re our hero.’ I said, ‘No, you’re OUR hero,’ ” and she cried, Landis relayed.
Some evacuees told him they likely lost everything in the storm. One of them, Maxine Noel, left her home in Montague, La., Friday afternoon with her young daughter and fiancée. They found shelter in a cabin at Landis’ park.
“I don’t think we can go home, our town got the worst of it,” Noel said. “I don’t think we will be allowed to home until, early next week.” Her home is located due north of Cocodrie, a low-lying community in Louisiana’s Cajun country, where the Gustav made landfall as a Category 2 storm at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Forecasters feared the storm would arrive as a devastating Category 4.
Buck McGee, general manager of Camper’s RV Center in the Shreveport area, hosted dozens of evacuees at his 56-site park and provided repair service to many others.
“They started arriving Friday afternoon from all over the Gulf Coast,” said McGee. “Normally we could refer them to state parks around here, but they were all booked full for the holiday.”
McGee recounted how one of the evacuees had recently purchased a used motorhome as “an escape vehicle” in case of hurricane “but he never expected to use it so soon. This is a terrible time to break in a new RV.”
Gary Pierson, one of the owners of Shiloh RV & Travel Resort in Monroe, La., said his 90-site park filled up quickly with evacuees and he “made room” for overflow. He expects evacuees to begin heading back south later this week.
“This is not nearly as bad as Katrina. We had people here for two months back then,” he said.
“We’ve rented everything except our bedrooms,” said Mary Sonnier, owner of Rolling Hills RV Park and Resort in Pollock, La., and Marson’s Landing in Boyce, according to the Alexandria (La.) Town Talk.
Between the two locations there are RV sites, cabins and corporate houses.
Sonnier said she and her crew fielded an estimated 400 phone calls leading up to the storm from people looking to evacuate their south Louisiana homes.
Though all the RV spots with electricity and plumbing were filled, Sonnier let RVers in to “do whatever (they) need to do to get away from that storm.”
There’s a 33-acre area at Rolling Hills with no electricity or plumbing, but Sonnier opened the field to RVers who need a place to stay. She offered the space free of charge.
In Pineville, 17 of the 19 RV sites at Country Livin’ RV Park were filled – and 16 of those spots were evacuees.