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Volunteers from Spokane obliged to wait out storm

Fri., Sept. 23, 2005

Headed to the Gulf Coast with a truckload of food, water and other necessities for victims of Hurricane Katrina, three Spokane sisters have been forced to a motel until another brutal storm passes.

Sharon Larson, Angela Geiss and Debbie McWilliams left earlier this week after gathering supplies from churches, schools and businesses. They made arrangements with a church to drop off the supplies in Hattiesburg, Miss.

“We ended up absolutely filling the truck from top to bottom, side to side,” Larson said in a telephone interview.

But the sisters received a call from the Hattiesburg church Wednesday requesting them to divert to Belle Chasse, La.

The women changed course and headed for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chasse, which is a few miles southeast of New Orleans.

Their mission was halted Tuesday in Natchitoches, La., about 160 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, when it became clear they would not be able to reach the town until Hurricane Rita has passed.

“All of our family members were calling us frantic,” Geiss said. “The roads are just a mess.”

Even as far north as Natchitoches, roads and motels are packed, and grocery store shelves are empty of water and other supplies, Geiss said. The women lucked out on accommodations when a motel manager decided to open a room for them that he saved for such special circumstances.

With inns booked, many people fleeing the coast are staying in cars packed with belongings and pets. The parking lot at the Burger King next to the sisters’ motel is full of such refugees.

Geiss said the three are committed to reaching Belle Chase and hope that could happen Sunday or Monday, depending on the damage caused by Rita.

Until then, they will hole up in the Comfort Inn in Natchitoches, where winds could reach 75 mph, Geiss said.

“Everybody is just on pins and needles waiting to see how hard Rita hits,” Geiss said. “It’s been a lot of nice people trying to help each other through it.”


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