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Central Louisiana: A place of refuge for coastal residents fleeing Harvey's floodwaters

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Flooding in Donna Sams' Baytown, Texas neighborhood. She is now waiting out the storm in Alexandria, Louisiana.
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ALEXANDRIA, La. -- Displaced, but welcomed is how Baytown, Texas resident Donna Sams describes her time in central Louisiana as Tropical Storm Harvey’s rage continues to leave a path of watery destruction.

Unlike most who arrived in in this central Louisiana city and the surrounding area colloquially called “Cenla,” Sams came to the area to attend a wedding, the sane day then-Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas last Friday.

The widespread storm quickly made its presence in the Houston area by the weekend’s end with unprecedented floods reaching 51 inches in some areas of the greater Houston area.

Even with news of the flooding in Houston, Sams was convinced that she would be able to return home to dry floors, considering her home sits on a higher elevation than most. But her hopes were scattered when texts and photos came in from neighbors, who were remained in the area.

“If I did not (attend) the wedding, I would not have left either,” she said. “I’ve lived there 23 years and never, never have there been any flooding in my area. It’s one of those freak things that came out of nowhere.”

Added Sams: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Similar sentiments have been on the lips of the countless evacuees who live in or around the Houston area since the rising waters have forced them from their homes as they seek shelter and a warm meal.

Sams is holed up in a local hotel where she remains indefinite, but many of those who remained in Texas during the storm had to find a dry haven in shelters.

Emergency preparedness specialists in the area have made available via social media, websites, and news broadcasts the shelters and emergency phone numbers for those in need.

In 2005, Alexandria, Pineville and other communities in Cenla welcomed evacuees from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, one of the costliest natural disasters in American history.

And, in a bit of sad irony, many evacuees fled to cities like Houston, making new homes there, only to be forced back out of their homes by another hurricane, this time named Harvey.


On Wednesday, the Beaumont and Port Arthur areas were in desperate need of refuge. Many were sent here to central Louisiana.

The LSU AgCenter at 300 Grady Britt Dr. in Alexandria was opened on Wednesday for evacuees which held 2,000 cots. Two more shelters have since been opened in the area.

An immediate number of evacuees has not been confirmed.

Nevertheless, Sams has experience the hospitality of her Louisiana neighbors.

“So far, so good,” she said. “I just know when we get back home there will be a lot of work to do. I’m ready to help my neighbors.”

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Carita Jordan Howard

Carita is an award winning journalist that has lived in Oklahoma for the last five years...

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