Libraries becoming center of information for evacuees

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2005

VIDALIA, La. &045; Pointing to a photo of a whale in an open book, 5-year-old Christian Camus showed his newest discovery to his mother.

&uot;Look, there’s its snout,&uot; he said.

Keisha Camus, 28, sat in the Vidalia library while here two children &045; Christian and 3-year-old Kennedi &045; sat in a corner looking at books. Keisha was among many adults waiting to use library computers for Internet access.

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Libraries in Concordia Parish became the epicenter of communications for Hurricane Katrina evacuees Thursday, as adults from area shelters, hotels and private homes from searched for information.

The George W. Armstrong Library in downtown Natchez has been closed for much of this week, thanks to a lack of power.

The power was restored at about 2 p.m. Thursday, but Internet connections remained elusive. Armstrong Library Director Susan Cassagne said Thursday that Cable One is donating Internet service to the library, and she hoped to have it up and running today. The library’s network is normally tied to the state library commission offices in Jackson, which have been out of power this week.

The Internet connections are vital as refugees search for information &045; from news of the communities they left behind to information about their temporary home.

Camus said she planned to use the Internet to begin a job search.

&uot;They said months &045; that it will be months before you can go back into Orleans Parish,&uot; the New Orleans refugee said. &uot;We know we’re not going to be able to go in there for at least two weeks, maybe three weeks.&uot;

A few moments earlier, 50-year-old Arthur Williams stood outside the Vidalia library and reached his next-door neighbor in Jefferson, La., for the first time via a cell phone.

Williams learned that his house withstood Katrina’s wrath, but he was told that he has a hole in his roof and water up to the porch steps.

&uot;We didn’t expect what we got,&uot; said Williams, who added he expects to remain in the area for &uot;no less than six months.&uot;

Area libraries provide an oasis for information-starved refugees Thursday, as many of them visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site and others searched for information about family or pets remaining in storm-ravaged areas.

The Vidalia library normally allows Internet users at least an hour for Internet searches, but long lines forced them to limit the time to 30 minutes Thursday.

Other refugees searched for information on food stamps and employment as the stark reality began to set in that they will be here for weeks, perhaps even months.

&uot;They’re all kind of stressed right now, but they’ve been very, very courteous with one another,&uot; said Hattie Neal, a branch supervisor at the Vidalia library.

Vidalia library officials also began expanding some programs to help evacuees on Thursday.

First, storytime for children was conducted throughout the day, Neal said. When a few children gathered, storytime was held. Evacuees were also allowed to make copies for 10 cents apiece &045; half the normal rate.

Library officials also said Thursday afternoon that the Ferriday branch will open at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and all branches but Clayton will open from 8 a.m. to noon on Monday.

Kerry Whipple

Bean contributed to this report.