Ike refugees land in Lewisburg

Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Dawna Buckley holds her daughter Brooke while talking about her family's future.

Call them the Hurricane Seven.

Adults among these seven escapees from Hurricane Ike agreed last week that they face a Catch 22 here in Lewisburg, where they're trying to find employment.

If they do get jobs they're probably going to stay because there's no reason to return to Orange County, Texas, where mold is now growing in their storm-soaked mobile home that lost some of its siding due to the storm.

They understand that a prospective employer might be reluctant to hire someone for more than a temporary position because they fled from a hurricane and this isn't their home, yet.

"We really don't have anything to go back to, so we might as well start over here," said Miranda Dawna Buckley, 23, who blew into town with: her husband Cody Buckley, 22; their three daughters, Kaylee, 5, Brooke, 22 months, and Braylin, 8 months; Cody's sister, Rachelle McMahon, 21, and; Jonathan Martin, 25, stepbrother to Cody and Rachelle.

They arrived in a 1997 Pontiac Transport van obtained a few years ago from relatives here. The van still bears a Lewisburg car dealership's name on the back hatch. But without room at relatives' homes, the seven are living at the Celebration Inn on Nashville Highway.

The relatives approached Millie Miller, proprietor of the Inn, who explained, "They knew I used to work for the Red Cross."

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency officials announced last week that evacuees from Hurricane Gustav exhausted supplies and services at emergency shelters in Tennessee, so Ike escapees should go elsewhere. Miller said the Red Cross told the seven that they could be put up in a shelter in Waveland, Miss.

When they got here, Miller said, they'd not eaten during the last 20 hours of an odyssey that started with weather forecasters warning that those who stayed in the Galveston area faced certain death. The seven had been living in Orange County on the Louisiana border near Beaumont, an hour's drive east of Galveston, but still a coastal community.

So, they drove to Wilamena State Park at Mena, Ark., where Cody's mother had made reservations for them through the Internet, but they could stay only one night because of threats from Hurricane Ike, according to Cherie Cox of Lewisburg. She's "Aunt Cherie" to Rachelle, Cody and Jonathan.

"We thought we'd make a weekend of it," camping at the park, Dawna said.

Now, "camped out" in one of Miller's apartments next to the Inn, the adults look for work, and are beneficiaries of Lewisburg's Southern hospitality and generosity from new friends.

Aunt Cherie, her husband, Tom, of Bethbirei Road, and his parents, Sonja and Tom Cox of Webb Road, are members of East Commerce Street Baptist Church. The congregation held a fish fry on Thursday night to feed and otherwise help the escapees from Hurricane Ike.

"After the fish fry," Dawna says, "they knocked on the door and gave us more."

There's been other help, but more is needed.

"The Lord gives us an opportunity to be a blessing to a family displaced because of Hurricane Ike."

Those plaintive yet still faithful words written by Sonja Cox top a flier distributed to members of her church to say the Hurricane Seven "are in need of diapers, No. 3 box."

"Both the eight-month, and two-year-old use the same size diapers," the flier reads. "The baby needs formula. It must be Similac Sensitive infant formula. A can of 12.4 ounce formula costs $14.53. Any amount of food will be greatly appreciated...

"They are Christians and thankful for any assistance coming their way," Cox wrote. "They know the Lord will provide."

Sonja and Cherie Cox may be reached at 359-4947 or 270-7019.

Meanwhile, Jonathan says he and Cody are "working on it" to get jobs. In Texas they did landscaping, mowing, lawn care and the like, they said. They worked for contractors who were hired by businesses.

Rachelle has worked as a lab assistant and customer assistant.

They've made applications at retail stores, factories and fast food restaurants.

"Oh yeah, I've flipped a burger," Cody said after naming a hamburger chain where he's applied on Ellington Parkway.

In addition to monetary donations, the seven have received clothes. Dawna is wearing a denim skirt and a green striped blouse -- garments that might be called her Lewisburg wardrobe, although it includes a hint of her faith.

Sonja explains they're Pentecostal, a faith in which women and girls wear skirts, not pants.

There have been bright moments. Shane and Cherie hosted a birthday party on Saturday night for Kaylee.

"She seems like a sad little girl," Sonja said, cautious about saying so, but aware of the predicament for a totally dependent child.

"But," Sonja continued, "she loosened up a little tonight. She came over to me before and said, 'Will you come to my party?' and I said, 'Sure I would.'

"Right now, our biggest problem is housing," Sonja said. "It's sufficient at Millie's, but we are looking for housing."

She's also frankly aware of the normal cost: $175 a week.

"And they're not working. Cody is so anxious to go to work, the one with the three babies. I hope people see that in him and give him a chance."

Dawna reports: "The church took up a collection to pay the rent."

They'd like to stay "if we can find a job," Rachelle said as Dawna finished the thought: "and a place to live."