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Fierce storm fills Vicksburg

One-year-old Sarah Murphy, left, draws while brother Chris Murphy, center, both from Loxley, Ala., looks at the classified section of their hometown newspaper while they find something to do as grandfather James Williamson, of Summerdale, Ala., looks on this morning in a shelter opened by the American Red Cross located in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[9/15/04]Vicksburg became an escape route and a stopping point Tuesday and today as thousands of people fled the Gulf Coast.

“It looks like a Friday night after a Warren Central football game,” Warren County Sheriff Pace said, descriving Mississippi 27 and Interstate 20. He said families waited in lines at the Texaco station at the Beechwood intersection.

Pensacola resident Donald Hawkins fled to Vicksburg trying to get out of Hurricane Ivan’s projected path. “I’m just trying to get west of the storm,” the Florida man said. “When it’s over I’ll go back.”

He planned to stay at least overnight at Rivertown Campground, where business was slam-full Tuesday night.

“I don’t have any lots left, I’m just putting them anywhere I can put them just to get them off the roads,” said Jim McLeod, a co-owner of the site off U.S. 61 South. “I just want them to be safe.”

Others sought safety at Calvary Baptist Church, which opened at 5 p.m. for those seeking a place to rest and filled by midnight. A second shelter at First Baptist Church opened before dawn. Warren County Emergency Management Director L.W. Callaway said more will be opened as needed.

Pace said deputies were checking the shelter hourly and were constantly checking highways.

“We have very heavy traffic in the westbound lanes of I-20 and northbound on Mississippi 27,” he said. “They’re checking just make sure cars haven’t stalled, run out of gas or otherwise left these drivers on the road.”

Police Chief Tommy Moffett was also making personnel available.

Along with hotels and campgrounds, the Warren County Jail is at capacity with 16 prisoners from the Pascagoula area.

“The sheriff from Jackson County called and said he had several hundred inmates to evacuate,” Pace said. “He asked us if we could hold some of his inmates for him.”

A Vicksburg Fire Department ambulance and two VFD personnel were on the Mississippi Gulf Coast this morning and a utility truck and four more personnel were on standby, Fire Chief Keith Rogers said.

Rogers said the VFD personnel were north of Interstate 10 in a sheltered location.

First Baptist was filling through the morning.

“We’re just thankful to have a roof over our head and not have to sleep in the car,” said Gloria Murphy of Loxly, Ala.

Murphy, her three grandchildren and four other adults spent 14 hours on the road overnight to get away from Ivan at the urging of her son who works for Alabama Power.

“We’re just trusting in the Lord,” Murphy said.

John Black of the American Red Cross said evacuees will be fed by the Salvation Army and other organizations and that they are getting cots from the U.S. Army. The local chapter of the AARP is also volunteering to help organize the shelters.

He expected demand to grow.

“I just think we really haven’t gotten started here with what we’re going to see,” Black said.

Local gas stations have also seen an increase in demand, but managers say they don’t expect to run out of fuel. “We’re doing OK for now,” said Petra Cameron, manager of the Fast Lane on Indiana Avenue at I-20.

Vicksburg areas attractions, including museums, tour homes, the Vicksburg National Military Park and casinos were expected to provide diversions.

Ray Neilsen, general manager of Ameristar Hotel and Casino, said the weather will be monitored.

“The safety of our guests and employees is of paramount importance and we will do anything to ensure their safety,” Neilsen said. Casinos have been closed in Vicksburg only once due to severe weather.