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University serves as special-needs shelter

Released: 08/29/2005

LSU Alexandria opened its Fitness Center gymnasium and Barbara Brumfield Caffey Annex to special-needs patients fleeing Hurricane Katrina.

The patients and their caregivers began arriving Saturday. As of Monday morning, the university was sheltering 79 patients plus 75 caregivers. More evacuees were expected later Monday.

“The special-needs shelter is something that LSUA has done several times in the past. We’re just happy to do it,” Chancellor Robert Cavanaugh said.

To make room for the evacuees, some classes that normally would have taken place in the Fitness Center had to be moved to other buildings. “And it is difficult, but these are difficult times for a lot of people,” Cavanaugh said.

The gymnasium has been used in the past, but this is the first time the Caffey Annex has been used as a shelter. The annex was opened Sunday when it became evident the gymnasium would reach its 225 capacity, said Dr. John Naponick, medical director and administrator for the Region 6 Office of Public Health. The university is now equipped to handle around 425 evacuees.

Public health officials on Monday were still getting calls from south Louisiana residents seeking shelter. Naponick said it is likely that both the fitness center and annex will be filled before the hurricane is over. “I feel like we’re just getting started here.”

In the Caffey Annex on Monday morning were Victor and Joelene Duet, who traveled to Alexandria from Larose with their children and grandchildren. Larose is located south of New Orleans.

The family left their home around 10 a.m. Sunday with no destination in sight.

“We were headed wherever they had room. We had no plan. The Lord directed us here,” Joelene Duet said. They got to LSU Alexandria around 10 p.m. Sunday.

Because some of the family members suffer from diabetes and asthma, they qualified for the special-needs shelter at LSU Alexandria. The family includes the couple’s daughter Melissa Duet, their daughter and son-in-law, Jenny and Harold Russell, and their grandchildren, Kelly, 3, and Ethan Michael, 14 months.

“They are treating us very good. Thank God it’s here,” Joelene Duet said. While the family worries about what they left behind, they are thankful that they evacuated in time. “Belongings you can replace, but your life you can’t,” she said.