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La. evacuees have brief stay in Brookhaven

Concern and the disruption of normal routines were the chiefopponents of Louisiana evacuees staying at a shelter opened here tohouse them from the effects of Hurricane Lili.

More than 30 residents from south Louisiana arrived at AmericanRed Cross shelter at First Baptist Church early Thursday morning.After a brief stay, they had left to return home by 1:30 p.m.Thursday.

Hurricane Lili, a Category 4 hurricane hurtling towards NewOrleans from the Gulf, changed course and rapidly deteriorated toCategory 2 before attaining landfall at Marsh Island, La. Itcontinued to decline as it moved further inland. By midday, itsoriginal 145 mph winds had dropped to 75 mph and it was barelyclassified as a hurricane. By evening, it was a tropical storm withwinds of 50 mph.

Even with Lili’s rapid deterioration, shelter occupants at FirstBaptist Church were glad they had evacuated, but were eager toreturn home since the threat level had dropped.

“We’re ready to go back,” said Karen Maldonado of NewOrleans.

Maldonado, a student at the University of New Orleans, arrivedat the shelter late Wednesday night with her husband, daughter, andseveral other families of relatives.

The Maldonados spent their time in the shelter playingfooseball, pool, reading … and worrying.

“It floods by my house so there may be some damage,” she said.”We hope not.”

Maldonado said she also had to worry about a test at school. Thetest was originally planned for Sept. 26, but was postponed becauseof Tropical Storm Isidore.

It was rescheduled for Thursday and postponed because ofHurricane Lili. Despite the extra time, she said the test willprobably be more difficult because of the delays.

“That’ll make the test harder, I think, because I’ve been toostressed to study,” Maldonado said.

Rebecca McGraw of Baton Rouge, La., said the shelter was a lifesaver. She came with three families of relatives and arrived inBrookhaven Wednesday night.

“We were going around to all the hotels and they told us theywere booked all the way to Arkansas,” she said.

They were at a gas station when they were approached by aBrookhaven police officer who inquired about them, she said. Whenhe was told they were trying to find a place to stay, they weredirected to a retail store parking lot while officials worked toopen a shelter.

“I believe we were the first the police approached,” McGrawsaid. “There were some who came after us once the shelter wasopened. We really appreciate what they did last night. We were sotired.”

They could “barely keep their eyes open” after driving for manyhours to get here, she said, and with the hotels all booked theywere discussing making another four hour drive into Alabama in thehopes a hotel there had vacancies. Others, she said, were not luckyenough to learn about the shelter or left before it was opened.

“We met some people who had driven for more than nine hourslooking for a place to stay,” McGraw said. “They were going todrive about another four hours and try to find something inAlabama.”

Maldonado said they intended to return home “after lunch”Thursday. The McGraws were going to wait until about 1 p.m. to maketheir decision because they were concerned about the high windsexpected here.

Those winds never really arrived. Brookhaven received some highwind gusts and about 2.25 inches of rain, far short of the 35-45mph winds and 5-8 inches of rain expected.