Gustav evacuees need housing help

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 29, 2008

Tropical Storm Gustav is predicted to become a formidable hurricane by early Sunday morning, and as of now seems to have New Orleans directly in its cross-hairs. As you can imagine, the phones have been ringing off the hook at the Visitor Center and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours for the last two days, with calls from New Orleans and surrounding area residents seeking refuge from the impending storm.

At present, there are no hotel rooms left in Natchez, and most of the bed and breakfast properties around the area are also booked, yet the phone calls keep coming.

I am writing to ask that if anyone has a room, or rooms, they would like to either rent or provide at no charge, to please call the Natchez Visitor Reception Center at 601-446-6345 and allow us to add you to the list. Many of the evacuees also have pets and small children, so if you are willing to accept either or both, please inform the visitor center staff when you call. If you are a veterinarian or anyone who boards animals, large or small, please call the visitor center and provide the staff with your contact information, as we’ve had a number of people ask about boarding.

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The Adams County Chapter of the Red Cross is gearing up and preparing its shelters across the county, but they too are in need of assistance. In a meeting Thursday, Red Cross Director Angie Brown said the shelters will open on an “as needed” basis, starting with Parkway Baptist Church. Volunteers are needed in a number of areas, such as food distribution, registration, cot setup and even simple moral support. A shelter volunteer training class will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, at the Sheriff’s Firing Range on Foster Mound Road, so please come out and get trained to help those in need.

If you are a local restaurant owner, be sure to have plenty of inventory and staff on hand as your establishments will probably be overrun starting Sunday and Monday. If you’re normally closed on Monday, please consider being open to help accommodate our visitors. Please bear in mind that beginning Sunday, Natchez will be teaming with unexpected visitors who have left their homes with very few possessions, and the concern that this will be a repeat of what happened three years ago today. Let’s be sure to put our best foot forward in helping them with directions to shelters, places to eat and anything you can do to make their stay, so that they will talk about their evacuation experience, and we’ll all make a great lasting impression.

This is certainly not the way we want to see our hotels, restaurants, and B&B’s filled during an unusually slow month, but as long as they’re here, let’s show them what southern hospitality is all about. Give us a call as soon as possible if you can help out in anyway. Thanks.

Sally Durkin is the media liaison for the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.