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Local economy boosted by evacuees

City businessmen and economic developers enjoyed a positive sideeffect to the mass evacuation of residents from other states whofled Hurricane Ivan, but wish the circumstances behind the increasein sales were better.

Although exact figures will not be available until the statereleases the figures in mid- to late-October, Chandler Russ,executive director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce, said the four-day visit by evacuees should have a fairlysignificant positive impact on the city’s budget.

“I think it’s been a huge economic boon for us, although I wishthose customers were visiting us for a different reason,” he said.”I hope they’ll come back to Brookhaven after witnessing ourhospitality, but when they do I hope it will be because they wantto and not because they were forced from their homes.”

Russ estimated 1,000 people from coastal areas in Florida,Alabama and Mississippi stayed in the area each day from Tuesday toThursday. That number declined some after Hurricane Ivan madelandfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., before dawn Thursday and manydecided to risk power outages and flooding to return to theirhomes.

Rory Richoux of LaPlace, La., was one of the many who chose tochance a return home Thursday morning. Richoux came to Brookhavenin a two vehicle convoy with his parents and two children. Theyarrived early Tuesday afternoon and were able to secure a hotelroom at Days Inn for the stay.

Unfortunately, they didn’t see a lot of it. Early Wednesdaymorning Richoux was taken to King’s Daughters Medical Center, wherehe was diagnosed with a kidney stone and scheduled for minorsurgery. He was released around 10:30 a.m. Thursday. By 11 a.m.,the Richoux’s were packing their vehicles for the trip home.

“We halfway enjoyed staying here,” Yvonne Richoux said with alaugh. “If my son hadn’t been sick it would have been better. Wespent a whole day in the hospital.”

Anna Smith, assistant manager at Comfort Inn, said the influx ofevacuees greatly enhanced hotel business, which is normally slowwith summer’s end and the return of children to school.

“Before this happened, we had slowed with the end of summer,”she said. “Because of the number of states involved, this is havinga huge economic impact. We started getting reservations when thehurricane first entered into the Gulf area, and started filling upon Sunday.”

The hotel stayed full through the week, Smith said. Business wasstill brisk Thursday and Friday, but began to fade as the weekendwore on. Even though some evacuees left for home Thursday morning,those rooms were given either to people in area shelters whoinquired about them or to travelers who fled further north and weretrying to get home.

She recounted a phone call she received Thursday morning from aFlorida family that was displaced into Kentucky because ofHurricane Ivan and needed a place to stop over for a night on theirway home.

Hotels also increased city business by referring visitors torestaurants, shopping locations for needed items and evenveterinarians for pet boarding.

Jose Lopez, manager of El Sombrero, said he noticed a slightincrease in business, but said it wasn’t very significant.

Other restaurants made similar observations.

Russ said the dining dollars of evacuees was probably spreadamong the Brookhaven area’s many restaurants and he guessed that noparticular restaurant enjoyed a huge increase over the others.