Best Western provides shelter for evacuees

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
The residents of Atmore and its surrounding community are all too familiar with hurricanes. But for the first time since the on-slaught of an overly active hurricane season, Atmore has finally fallen on the good side of the storm.
When evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi began filing into Best Western in Atmore last week, Rochel Martin, hotel bookkeeper, saw something more on their faces. Martin began making phone calls to seek assistance for the more than 30 rooms that filled quickly in the days before the storm.
One phone call to the American Red Cross led Martin to First Baptist Church of Atmore where she told them of the evacuees. From that, came an influx of calls to the hotel. According to Ruth Tullis and Connie Weaver, hotel desk clerks, churches as well as individuals responded to the request for help. Churches began signing up to bring either lunch or dinner for the occupants ousted from their homes by Katrina. " We have had meals ever since last Thursday" Weaver commented, "The response has been amazing."
Brooks Memorial, Oak Grove Church of Christ, Oak Grove Baptist, Gaines Chapel, Mennonite Christian Fellowship, Poarch Creek Indians, Billy and Linda Farr, Lily Peoples and Tensaw Holiness have all prepared meals for the hotel occupants affected by the storm. Gaines Chapel in Atmore has committed to preparing a meal each Sunday as long as they are needed. Churches are also bringing non-perishable items with them to be distributed among the families. " One group brought in 12 boxes of non-perishable items. We divided the boxes with the people who evacuated", said Martin.
Meeting a need for food is not the only way Atmore has reacted to being on the good side of the storm. Anonymous individuals have paid for some of the evacuee's stay at the Best Western. Other guests staying in the hotel has donated money as well. Storm victims have even donated money to help the other victims. "We just turn around and give it to the families that need it. Usually, the ones with children." Martin replied. We Care of Atmore are providing two suits of clothes free of charge to people who can show proof of identification from MS and LA.
The Gulf Coast residents react in disbelief over the outpouring of kindness from the people of Atmore. "They want the names of the people donating money and we cannot tell them. The people wanted to remain anonymous." Martin said.
A couple that lives within one mile of each other in Bay St. Louis, MS met for the first time in the halls of Best Western. Sally Adolph and Dolores Bullitt shared lunch together while their husbands, new friends and old neighbors, traveled back to MS to check the status of the Bullitt's home. Adolph's husband had already made the tedious trek back home to find their home still in tact, but not without damage. The two, one young wife and the other an 82-year-old mother sat anxiously awaiting the news from their husbands.
Each couple was looking for higher ground the day before the storm and settled in Atmore from sheer exhaustion. Adolph and her husband arrived at the Best Western on Aug. 28th the day before landfall. "The hotel had no vacancies. We slept in our vehicle Sunday and remained there through Monday" Adolph said " I brought my four cats with me and had gotten out with them Sunday. A man who turned out to be from the Tribal Council saw me looking for one of my cats that I lost, and approached me. Upon hearing our story he carried us in the hotel and we were able to reserve a room."
Adolph can't get over how nice everyone in Atmore has been. " The people have been wonderful. I can't even begin to tell you" Adolph commented.
Adolph who is a MS state employee will be returning home as soon as possible. Her office will relocate in Biloxi to help the MS Disaster Assistance program begin relief efforts for her fellow victims. The Adolph's do plan on staying in Bay St. Louis.
Dolores Bullitt who remembers Hurricanes Betsy and Camille said there is no comparison to Katrina. Bullitt stayed for the previous storms, but thought better about Katrina. "In my 82 years I have never seen anything of this magnitude. My mind can't grasp it all." Bullitt and her husband who is 84, will be leaving Atmore soon to stay with their son in Houston, TX to stay with their son until they can return to MS. Bullitt is also overwhelmed at Atmore's response to their needs. "The meals have been a tremendous help for us all. It gets costly in a situation like this."
Terri Borer, also from Bay St. Louis, has benefited from the hospitality of local churches and residents. Borer, who is staying with family at Best Western, has lost everything. The family is waiting for help from FEMA. "We are trying to stay as close to home as we can until we know what to do." Borer commented, " The churches and staff have been wonderful to us."
Another Mississippi resident from Lakeshore, MS has been finding comfort at Best Western as well. Barbara Lundy, will be heading to stay with family in Houma, LA as soon as she can possibly find her way there. Lundy also lost her home to Katrina. However, her family's loss reached much further – Lundy's father perished in the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. " He didn't want to leave his house, so he stayed" Lundy commented.
The employees of Best Western want no recognition. They just hope that someone would do the same for them. "Watching people who have lost everything and seeing the faces of people who couldn't afford to stay here, breaks your heart. We wonder where they are, where they will go and if they are okay," said Martin.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox