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Warm welcome leads man to make Natchez home

NATCHEZ — Phillip Heisser said he would come back to Natchez after his first stay, but it wasn’t something he wanted to occur.

Heisser evacuated from New Orleans to Natchez for Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and when Hurricane Katrina set her sights on New Orleans in 2005, Heisser made the decision to return to Natchez again.

“The warm people and the hospitality I felt the first time, was the reason I said I’d come back here if I had to,” he said. “I never expected to, and I surely didn’t think it would be just one year later.”

Heisser left New Orleans with his two daughters and grandchild on Saturday before the storm made landfall early Monday morning. Four hours later, he and his family set up residence in the Red Cross shelter established at the Steckler Multipurpose Center at Natchez High School.

“I grew up with parents whose mind set was to ride out the storms,” Heisser said. “If it hadn’t been for my children, I probably would have stayed, too.

“We left to keep them from worrying and being scared, but it was the best decision.”

At that time, he never anticipated five years later he’d still be living in Natchez. But two weeks after arriving in Natchez, Heisser moved his family to a local apartment and accepted a job as a security officer at Natchez High School.

In New Orleans, he was employed as a transportation administrator with the school district. He knew he wanted to remain in a school setting, and the security position was the only available position at the time.

He worked approximately two years as a security officer before accepting the position as the office manager at Central Alternative School.

He just began his fourth school year at Central.

“As soon as news hit that the levees were breeched, I knew we weren’t going home any time soon,” he said. “Then I had to figure out how to start over with my family. The people in Natchez had been so good to us while we were in the shelter, and that is why I chose to stay here.”

Heisser made his first trip back to New Orleans in October 2005 on the first weekend after it was deemed safe to return.

“I saw places in the ceiling where people had gone up to the roof to be evacuated, and you could see where they had chairs and things up there waiting to be rescued,” he said. “If I had stayed, I would have been up there with them.”

Now Heisser is greatful to have found a new place to live, a new job and a different life in Natchez.

His youngest daughter Shandease Heisser graduated from Natchez High last year and is enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Natchez.

“It was a hard transition for her,” he said. “She was used to the city and her friends, but she made friends here and was able to adjust. I think at times she still wants to go back to New Orleans, but she has been happy here.”

When he set up his life in Natchez, Heisser thought he’d only stay until his daughter graduated from high school, but now Natchez is home.

“I don’t know if I’ll go back to New Orleans, but I know I won’t get any further away,” he said.

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