Coastal residents flee to Monticello to escape Ivan

Karon Parrish


Photo by Karon Parrish
Helping Out — Gulf Coast residents eat food provided by Cowboy's Restaurant. Area Monticello businesses and churches coordinated food services for evacuees.
   Hurricane Ivan not only affected the western Gulf Coast of the United States but has also made an impact on Southeast Arkansas. Families anxious to get away from the threat of Ivan have traveled from as far away as New Orleans, Atlanta and Dallas.

   All the hotels and bed and breakfast inns in Monticello have been booked to capacity since Sept. 12. As Ivan hit land early Thursday morning in Gulf Shores, Ala., the threat of totally destroying New Orleans lessened and some families began returning home. One family said that even though the threat of wind damage is over, the flooding threat is still very real.

   Hotels in Crossett, Dumas and Lake Village have also been booked. Many families packed their cars and trailers as tightly as possible with personal belongings. Many families did not have funds to travel and had to borrow money from anyone they could.

   As the evacuees followed the posted evacuation routes, they sometimes traveled as slow as 20 miles per hour. Many had to find other escape routes when some evacuation routes closed due to flooding.

   Pam Ricks, the manager of The Ramada Inn in Lake Village, said she has been working without much sleep for the past week.

   “The hotel was booked to capacity but we eventually opened our conference room and the National Guard armory brought in 20 cots for our guests,” she said.



Which way? — A sign directing to the on-ramp of I-10 near Mobile, Ala., is the only part of the road visible in floodwaters from Hurricane Ivan on Sept. 16. Ivan killed more than 20 people while carving a path of destruction along the middle Gulf Coast and cutting off Interstate 10 in Mobile and Pensacola.
   Not only did Lake Village hotels fill up, but Ricks said the community began to take in families. One farmer opened his hunting lodge to house over 40 people.

   “We gave out maps until we ran out and then started drawing maps to get people to other towns,” Ricks said. “We sent them to Monticello, Little Rock, and actually sold over 100 rooms to the Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs.”

   Sam and Allison Hearnsberger of Fairhope, Ala., began driving sometime Tuesday, stopping at towns along the way but being turned away because the hotels were booked. The Hearnsbergers finally arrived in Monticello Wednesday evening and took a room at the Economy Inn.

   “We kept driving but the closer we got to Monticello, Sam began to feel better,” Allison Hearnsberger said. “He felt safe once we arrived. Since he attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello back in the early sixties, he felt like he was home. The townspeople have been so warm and gracious to us also.”

   Monticello’s Holiday Inn Express manager Shelia Etheridge said her staff worked around the clock to help the guests with anything they might need.

   “It has been heartbreaking to see how exhausted these people are,” she said. “Many of them drove 20 hours or more just to beat the storm.”

   Etheridge said all the guests have been overwhelmed with the amount of community support. Businesses, churches and townspeople have provided food, blankets, water, maps and comforting words to people who had to bring what they could.

   “It was difficult choosing which pieces of furniture to try and save but in the end, our lives were more important,” New Orleans resident Jean Stanley said. “We at least had time to make some decisions so I guess we are lucky compared to other disasters where you only have seconds to take cover.”

   Stanley said they will make a decision in the next day or two about returning home. They now worry about flooding.

   The Drew County Chamber of Commerce along with city and county officials began planning as quickly as possible when the evacuees began arriving. Chamber Director Glenda Bolin said she believes the last evacuee arrived about 1 a.m. Thursday morning.

   “We’ve had the mayor, county judge, and UAM Chancellor Jack Lassiter offer to do whatever it takes to help these people,” she said. “There have been townspeople calling just to see what they could do. It has been amazing!”

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