Residents evacuate ahead of Isaac, others stay

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Associated Press

Posted on August 28, 2012 at 9:01 PM

GRAND BAY, Ala. (AP) — Some Gulf Coast residents were getting out of town as Isaac approached, while others decided to hunker down and ride out the storm. A Mississippi resident was heading to her father's Alabama home. Twin sisters from Holland planned to ride out the storm in the French Quarter while looking for something to do, a gambler departed a Mississippi coast casino as the state temporarily shut the gambling halls and a woman fled New Orleans with her husband, two kids and pets. Here are their stories.

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At a rest stop along Interstate 10 in Alabama, Bonnie Schertler, 54, of Waveland, Miss., was evacuating Tuesday to her father's house in Red Level, Ala., about three-and-a-half hours away. Schertler was traveling with her dog, Custer, and cat, Bennie. She said she decided to evacuate because forecasters were saying the storm could get stronger and could stall and pound the coast for an extended period of time.

"I left because of the 'coulds,'" said Schertler, whose former home in Waveland was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

It was six months before power was back on in the area then. Schertler rebuilt, but she decided it was better to leave her home during this storm.

"I just feel like the storm may stay for a few days and that wind might just pound, and pound, and pound, and pound," she said.

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In the eerily quiet French Quarter in New Orleans, 34-year-old twin sisters from Holland wandered the streets looking for people to talk to and something to do.

Meernda and Corena Cecsl flew to Houston on Saturday, planning to drive to New Orleans for 14 days of music, crowds and fun. Instead, they arrived to news of a tropical storm that later became a hurricane.

"We thought, maybe it's not as big as Katrina. And I thought about the kids. I'm a social worker, so I thought, 'What can I do to help if people need help,'" Meernda Cecsl said.

They hunkered down in their hotel with two other guests and one staffer. The hotel had no food and no service so they stocked up on canned goods, bread, fruit and water, and bought candles and lighters. Their plan Tuesday was to wander the streets looking for people to talk to and things to do, then get back in the hotel by 1 p.m. and ride out the night. Games and books would get them through.

"If it's coming, it's coming. What can you do?" Meernda Cecsl said, vowing not to let it get her down or ruin the trip. "You have to just take the spirit with you."

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Julie Gilyot, who evacuated from New Orleans with her husband, her two kids, a dog and a cockatiel, said she had been struggling to find a hotel that could accommodate her pets. She said she also had to leave her home for Hurricane Katrina.

"We evacuated this time simply because of the potential loss of power," she said. "Not so much for the flooding, because where I live it doesn't flood exactly."

She didn't know how long they would have to stay away this time. During Katrina, she said, they packed up some clothing and expected to be away for a few weeks. They were gone for six months.

Despite the fact that the anniversary of Katrina was expected to coincide with Isaac's landfall, Gilyot said she wasn't too worried about the storm.

"When you live in New Orleans, then you've been through it multiple times," she said. "You pretty much have a handle on things. It's very draining, but you know, you kind of get a comfort zone."

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At Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Casino in Biloxi, Miss., Alvin Waters of nearby Gautier, Miss., was the last gambler escorted out the door Tuesday morning, as the sun broke through the clouds. The state Gaming Commission ordered all of Mississippi's coastal casinos to close because of Isaac. Because of state law, all 12 of the coast casinos are over or near the water.

"The sun's coming out and they're running us out," said Waters, who was off work because his employer was closed. "I got up at 4 o'clock to see what the storm was doing and I thought I'd get out and do something else."

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On the edge of Vacherie, La., just a few hundred yards from the Mississippi River levee, neighborhoods were silent and many homes were boarded up.

The only action was at the Piggly Wiggly, where a steady stream of customers stocked up on water, beer, nonperishable food and meats they could cook before the storm's arrival.

"We had two or three rows of vehicles here earlier," said employee Debbie Inness, whose boss planned to close by 4 p.m. "We try to help out the community and stay open as long as we can."

"It's only a Cat 1, so we'll be OK," she said, loading bags of ice into her own SUV. Her home was boarded up Monday and she had been preparing for two days with a routine checklist. But neither she nor husband Keith was worried.

"We'll get a little wind, a little rain," her husband said, shrugging. "We could get a little tornado action here and there. That's always exciting. But you can't plan for that, so you can't worry about it."

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Dominica Knight, 23, of Houma, La., sat on a folding chair in a corner of the Houma Municipal Auditorium with a sleeping baby in her arms, a restless toddler fidgeting next to her and a pile of blankets and dolls at her feet.

She'd just arrived at what was now the official evacuation center for Terrebonne Parish and the center's director was on a microphone asking people to make room for her and other newcomers on the broad orange white and black-flecked floor that resembled old-fashioned kitchen linoleum.

"I have kids and they both have asthma," she said, holding 11-month-old Zyla in the crook of her arm while holding onto 2-year-old Damia with her free hand. She didn't want to be without power, or away from emergency assistance with a hurricane approaching.

She had expected the center to provide cots and was now waiting for a friend to bring her something to sleep on.

"I'm not used to evacuating. I haven't had one in seven years and I didn't have them," she said, nodding toward her children.

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Bobby Pellegrin, a 39-year-old welder, didn't want to spend Tuesday night at his wooden house in Houma with Hurricane Isaac moving in, so he and his wife evacuated to a hotel. But after checking in, they, along with the other guests, got notes from the Hampton Inn management warning them they would be required to move into the hallways during the worst of the storm to avoid injury from broken window glass.

Also, they were told to prepare for a lack of power and air conditioning. "I thought they had a generator. That's why we came here," Pellegrin said.

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Associated Press writers Sheila Kumar in Baton Rouge, La., Jeff Amy in Biloxi, Miss., Vicki Smith in Vacherie, La., and Kevin McGill in Houma, La., contributed to this report.

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