Seeking shelter: Evacuees flock to county

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Rosa Lee Barnes didn’t think twice about inviting a New Orleans family into her home last week after the family fled the death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

Barnes and her husband, residents of Columbiana, welcomed

the Sumrall family with open arms, giving them beds, food and even clothes and asking nothing in return.

&uot;I would have felt guilty not doing something,&uot; Barnes said.

&uot;If it was my own family and children I know I would be happy to have a home for them.&uot;

Steve Sumrall and his wife Jennifer call the town of Kenner, La., home. Kenner, La., is just outside of New Orleans and home to the Louis Armstrong International Airport.

But since fleeing from their home on Aug. 28, the Sumralls are now beginning to wonder whether they still have a house.

&uot;We don’t know if we have a house or jobs or anything,&uot; Steve Sumrall said. &uot;It’s tough. It’s really tough not knowing.&uot;

The Sumralls and their three boys, Christopher, 9, Zachary, 6, and Alexander, 3, first traveled to Oxford, Miss., in search of shelter, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

&uot;We were lucky enough to have a car and gas to get out,&uot; Sumrall said.

The family spent a few nights in a hotel in Oxford, Miss., but their makeshift shelter soon lost power and the price of the hotel room became too much for the family to bare.

&uot;It was costing us $60 to fill up a tank of gas and $95 a night for the hotel room,&uot; Sumrall said. &uot;We just couldn’t do it anymore.&uot;

The Sumralls decided to leave Steve’s parents and a family friend in a nursing home in Mississippi that was doubling as a shelter and head to Alabama. Jennifer contacted Barnes, a distant relative, soon after the family arrived in Alabama.

&uot;We really had nowhere else to go,&uot; Sumrall said. &uot;God definitely sent us in the right direction this way.&uot;

The family learned last week that they would be allowed back in to New Orleans this past Monday to check their home and business.

Sumrall is owner of the Big Easy Bar and Grille in New Orleans. He is unsure whether his business or his house survived.

&uot;As far as we know, we don’t have any jobs to go home to and no homes to go to either,&uot; he said.

The Sumralls have been spending their time in Columbiana trying to get as much back to normal as possible.

The parents are both on necessary medications and have been working with local health clinics to get prescriptions filled.

The Sumrall children have kept active at the Barnes’, which also keep two grandchildren during the daytime, making the total number of residents in the house reach nine.

&uot;Everybody has been doing their part,&uot; Barnes said.

The Sumralls spent a good portion of their time watching news reports of the horror that was taking place in their hometown.

&uot;This is the only concept we have of what’s going on,&uot; Sumrall said as he watched CNN broadcasts of the Louisiana Superdome evacuation.

&uot;Everybody is asking questions and nobody has any answers,&uot; he said.

As the Sumralls head back to New Orleans this week, they are scared and unsure of what they might find.

For every house left standing on the Gulf Coast, it seems that five more have been completely destroyed. The Sumrall family is hoping they can beat those odds.

&uot;It’s sad to see my friends and neighbors suffering down there,&uot; Sumrall said. &uot;I’m just worrying about what we might find.&uot;