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Many who fled storm begin heading home

Evacuees slowly began to trickle toward home early today aftertaking refuge here from Hurricane Ivan but were worried what theymay find when they get there.

The evacuees, mostly from Louisiana and Alabama, began arrivingTuesday. By Wednesday night, five shelters had opened in theBrookhaven area.

Most evacuees are returning home to uncertain situations.

“I probably won’t have electricity, and I have a lot of treesaround my house so I’m still worried,” said Sam Murphy ofPearlington. “But I finally got a good night’s sleep.”

His sleep came not from relief over Ivan’s northward turn intoGulf Shores, he said, but because he collapsed into slumber beforeIvan’s landfall.

“The exhaustion kicked in, I guess,” he said. “I hadn’t sleptwell in days from all the worry and stress.”

Most of the evacuees, however, gathered in throngs to watchtelevision updates until landfall. Others, more affected by thestorm, stayed up throughout the night for the latest news.

“A lot of people stayed up watching TV until they knew where itwould go in. Then they went to sleep,” said Judy Amos, a Departmentof Human Services employee volunteering at the Easthaven BaptistChurch shelter.

Constance Dillon, of Mobile, said she and approximately 60members of her family took turns between a TV vigil and sleeping tokeep abreast of the latest news.

“I’m worried about what I’m going to find. I thought all alongit would hit straight on,” she said.

Ivan made landfall at Gulf Shores, Ala., east of Mobile.

The large family planned to leave around 8 a.m. in a convoy toNew Orleans. The family, which includes members from Mobile, NewOrleans and other coastal cities, met at a relative’s house in NewOrleans and fled northward together. They stopped here when thetired band decided they could go no further.

“Traffic was bumper-to-bumper. It was hard to stay together. Iwas scared to death,” Dillon said.

They were delighted when they discovered they would be able toshelter together at Easthaven.

“We were worried we would be split up,” she said.

Many evacuees were not waiting for daylight to return home oncethey learned Ivan’s major threat loomed to the east.

“I got here around 4:30 this morning, and a lot of them hadalready left,” said John Richardson, a volunteer at Easthaven.

Layla Edwards, executive director of the Lincoln County AmericanRed Cross, said she expected that several, if not all, of theshelters would close today, but that would depend on theevacuees.

“It’s basically up to the evacuees,” she said. “Most of theLouisiana evacuees will probably leave first.”

The county opened five shelters over the past two days to houseevacuees, she said. At 6 a.m. Thursday, Faith Presbyterian andEasthaven Baptist churches were reporting they were still full with123 and 248 evacuees respectively, although those numbers wereexpected to dwindle fast during the early morning hours.

“We never reached top capacity at First Baptist, Macedonia orCentral Baptist,” Edwards said.

First Baptist became a temporary home for approximately 135evacuees while Macedonia and Central Baptist churches held 10 andeight, respectively.

In Lawrence County, Monticello Mayor David Nichols saidapproximately 25 evacuees found refuge at Monticello Baptist Churchwhile Bethel Baptist and Monticello Methodist Baptist churcheshoused about 10 each.

“There were some other churches that also opened their doors asshelters, but I don’t have any figures for them,” he said.

While most evacuees found refuge in shelters or hotels, someutilized camper trailers or motor homes and lodged at LawrenceCounty’s parks, Nichols said. Lake Mary Crawford had approximately25 campers last night while 30-40 campers utilized facilities atAtwood Water Park over a two-day period.

“Some stayed overnight Tuesday and kept on heading northWednesday,” he said. “I don’t exactly how many we had last night atthis time.”

Nichols said the Monticello shelters also would remain open aslong as they were needed.