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Mississippi’s Paul B. Johnson State Park filled up rapidly this weekend with recreational vehicles as Florida and Alabama residents tried to reach the west side of Hurricane Dennis, according to the Hattiesburg American.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be quiet here,” 82-year-old Pensacola, Fla., resident A.R. Windley said as he secured his camper to his pickup truck, making him ready to take flight again at a moment’s notice.
Windley, who arrived Friday (July 8), said he and his wife leave Pensacola every time a hurricane approaches.
“When Ivan went through, it really devastated Pensacola. It was really sad to go back and see all the damage. A lot of people lost their homes that couldn’t afford it,” he said.
Nearby, a group of three families from Pensacola relaxed by the lake, ready to spend the night Saturday and decide Sunday whether they should move on.
“We went through Ivan, but we’re not going to go through this one,” Jimmy Nix said. “As soon as they said it was a Category 4, we packed up. We didn’t really have a plan; we just jumped in and went.”
“We’re watching it and we might be leaving here, but I expect with the cooler water in the Gulf, the storm will slow up and might be a strong Category 1 or light 2 when it hits,” Daniel Cook said.
The families were driving four high-end RVs owned by the company that employs both Cook and Nix’s sister, Julie Coleman.
While many people took refuge in the state park, Manager Ty Linden said it’s far from the safest place to locate during a storm.
“If conditions get worse than what they’re predicting we may see a lot of people pulling out and going farther west,” he said Saturday before Dennis hit land. “There are a lot of shade trees and pine trees and that’s not the safest in a storm. And being in a travel trailer is not the ideal place to be to try to ride out a storm.”
Linton said last-minute evacuees, many of whom are poor families, often arrive at the campground hours in advance of a hurricane with plans to stay there and ride-out the storm.
“You see a lot of people in tough situations. Maybe they didn’t plan properly or their job wouldn’t allow it or financially they just can’t afford to leave,” he said. “If they come at the last minute, we let them stay and don’t charge a camping fee. But it’s pretty hazardous.”
A sparser cluster of RVs had also assembled at the James Lynn Cartlidge Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center just north on U.S. 49 – which offered more secure shelter options for refugees and their animals.
“We came here last year during Ivan and we knew it was safe,” Mobile, Ala., resident Brian Reed said. “I reckon we’ll be here ’til Tuesday if we have to. But they’ve been taking good care of us.”
Reed, his wife and two sons were tending to four horses and seven Jack Russell terriers.
They planned to stay inside the main building today where the South Central Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross had set up a shelter.
“I feel a lot safer here than I would anywhere in Mobile,” Reed said.