COLUMBIA — With vivid memories of the damages Hurricane Katrina left three years ago, 2 million people fled Louisiana as Hurricane Gustav approached the Gulf Coast. Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia opened its doors to those displaced by the storm, but as of Monday night was without any evacuees.
Many people leaving the coast booked hotel rooms or stayed with family in cities closer to home. Those who boarded transportation provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were routed to shelters in metropolitan cities. Most are planning to be back home by the weekend, pending the cleanup of downed power lines and debris as well as the restoration of electricity services.
"As the situation changes in Louisiana, many folks are awaiting word of when they may go back home," Mike Odneal, executive director of the Mid-Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross, said. "We'll certainly stay open as long as there is an identified need. We'll stay on standby even longer."
Although volunteers at Calvary Baptist Church were prepared to serve 100 evacuees from Hurricane Gustav, few coastal residents arrived.
"As you can imagine, these kinds of situations can change daily, if not hourly," Odneal said about the change in the pace from Monday afternoon, when volunteers were hurrying to set up cots, to Tuesday morning, when the shelter was without any evacuees.
Calvary Baptist opened as a shelter for hurricane evacuees at 3 p.m. Monday when three people from New Orleans arrived. The family left later in the evening, telling Red Cross volunteers that they were headed to a local store to buy clothes. The family did not return to the shelter and attempts to reach them were unsuccessful, Odneal said.
By 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, eight people from suburbs of New Orleans checked into the shelter. The family of eight evacuees were among the 13 expected to register before nightfall Monday, Odneal said. Though they were supposed to check in Monday, the family was delayed because the shelter had been unable to contact them with details; instead, the family checked into a hotel Monday night, Odneal said. The eight planned to spend Tuesday night at the shelter.
Odneal has not received word of any additional evacuees planning to arrive.
On Tuesday, eight additional evacuees who were staying with relatives in Columbia came to the shelter requesting food, water, personal items and gasoline vouchers. The Red Cross chapter is partnering with the local Salvation Army to provide such vouchers to people who can prove they are from the affected states with a valid driver's license and proof of car insurance.