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Evacuees find haven in Brewton

By By LYDIA GRIMES –Features writer
Many families were divided last week when Hurricane Katrina decided to pay a visit to the Gulf Coast. In the case of one extended family, their separate escape routes led them to Alabama, where they reunited in Brewton.
One family went to Birmingham and one to Montgomery. Even though they had trouble with their cell phones they were finally able text message each other and find out where everyone was.
Janet Jackson-Ripoll, her husband Edward Ripoll, and her three children, Oliver Jackson IV, Joshua Jackson and Arricca Jackson all left New Orleans Sunday headed north and east to avoid the storm. Their journey eventually led them to Birmingham where they rented a hotel room to ride out the fury of Katrina.
After three days of having the expense of a hotel, they were able to contact Janet's sister, Shirley Shelby, who was in Montgomery. Through that connection they were able to find that Shelby's daughter-in-law, Sheila Shelby, had a sister who had evacuated to Atmore from New Orleans.
The decision was made to see if they could find a shelter that might be open that they could all go to so they could be together.
That is when they were able to find the Greater Brewton Area YMCA. The Y had opened its doors to take in people who had to evacuate New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Wednesday afternoon the families met at the Y for the first time since before the storm and were able to compare stories about other members of the family.
In the meantime, Oliver Jackson, who is a pharmacist tech, Joshua Jackson, who is a student at Delgado Community College, and Arricca Jackson, who is in nursing, are all sitting on cots in the gymnasium at the Y, trying to find enough to keep them busy.
Janet Jackson-Ripoll, who is in medical records at Ochsner, is spending time trying to get in touch with other family members. Bryant Shelby, son of Shirley Shelby, was busy trying to get his records straight and get to a computer to update his resume, while his wife, Sheila, kept up with their children, Bria and Kristen. Sheila's sister, Cynthia Johnson, and her husband Dwaun Johnson were very busy trying to get through to other relatives on their cell phones.
There was another family who has taken refuge at the Y. The Neal family, too, are trying to keep themselves busy while they wait. Warren Neal Sr., Roberta Alice Neal, and their children, Chantell Hope Neal and Stephanie LeBlanc, along with her husband, Joseph LeBlanc seem to be able to keep themselves busy while the two LeBlanc sons were having fun playing with the balls in the gym.
Warren Neal was resting on a cot with a closed Bible at his side, as packed belonging surrounded him. He briefly closed his eyes in the midst of the peace and quiet that had finally settled in the late-morning. His eyes slightly opened and he said that he had been "meditating on the Word." His wife, he said, was at the dentist's office. She had missed an appointment due to the hurricane's approach, and it became urgent that she visit the doctor.
Roberta Neal stood next holding a white paper bag holding antibiotics the doctor prescribed to her.
While the adults milled around, children were running about, exhausting themselves.
In fact Charles turned four since he has been there and the staff of the Y made sure that he had a birthday party.
Bryant Shelby Jr., who "dibble dabbles in all types of communications" sat on the bleachers in the new gym and was holding his laptop. He said that he's known for his "bad luck." Everywhere time he had a job, it seemed the company would shut down shortly after his arrival.
Hopefully, he said, his luck will turn around.