Community Chapel welcomes evacuees

Published 11:19 pm Monday, September 1, 2008

NATCHEZ — On Monday morning the gym at Community Chapel Church of God was dotted with clusters of air mattresses and folding cots.

The bedding was assembled into what looked like groups of makeshift living rooms that were occupied by those driven from their homes by Gustav.

Maxine Harris, 51, along with a group of her family, had staked out a section of Community’s gym and were ready to ride out the storm.

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Harris is from Westwego, La., just outside New Orleans, and decided to evacuate on Friday.

Harris left on Saturday; her trip to Natchez took seven hours.

And for Harris evacuating for hurricanes is nothing new.

Three years ago she was at Community Chapel seeking refuge from Katrina.

She said when the time came to leave for Gustav there was no question in her mind that she was heading back to Natchez.

“It’s beautiful here,” she said.

And while Harris said she has enjoyed the time she has spent in Natchez, she’d rather be at home.

Harris lives on the West Bank, an area expected to be hard hit by Gustav, and she is concerned about her house.

Harris said she has gotten floodwater in her house after what many would consider a normal rainfall.

“I’m worried now,” she said. “It has flooded before, and if it’s still livable I’m going back.”

But just when evacuees like Harris and others at Community Chapel will be going back is unknown.

Associate Pastor Bo Swilley said after Hurricane Katrina the church housed refugees for 45 days.

“But we’ll be here to help them as long as they need it,” he said.

Harris said she hopes not to need to be in the shelter for long.

“I hope to God that we can leave by (Tuesday) or Wednesday,” she said.

And while Harris said she hopes to be home as soon as possible, Swilley said evacuees like Harris are exactly the kind needed in the shelter.

“She knows the drill and she’s always helping out,” he said.

The shelter is currently housing approximately 60 evacuees and Swilley said he’s expecting that number to jump.

“We’re probably going to have about 75 or 80 soon,” he said.

Swilley said he expects the shelter’s ranks to grow because of locals evacuating mobile homes for the storm.

And when those newest evacuees arrive, Swilley said he’ll be ready.

“The Red Cross has been providing food and our church members have been helping out a lot,” he said

And Harris said she’s grateful for all that help.

“Nobody wants to have to do this,” she said. “But it’s better than standing out in the storm.”