Family of evacuees finds refuge

Published 11:16 pm Thursday, September 4, 2008

A promise from an Edmundite priest one year ago provided safe shelter in Selma this week for more than 20 New Orleans residents fleeing Hurricane Gustav.

Dora Caceres and her family — including children and grandchildren — fled the city ahead of the hurricane in the mandatory evacuation of a city still digging out from beneath the disaster of Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Caceres is a faithful worshipper and staff member at St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Marrero on the city’s west bank. As the hurricane threatened, she remembered the promise her priest gave her before leaving his New Orleans parish last year.

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Rev. Paul McQuillen, S.S.E., who served the parish 17 years, told her that if she and her loved ones ever needed to evacuate, they would find a welcome refuge with the Edmundite Missions in Selma.

Calling from the road, Caceres also asked if she could bring some other Spanish-speaking friends she had met on the road who had no where to go.

“Of course,” was McQuillen’s response.

Father Carroll Plourde, S.S.E., priest at Queen of Peace Catholic Church, joined Father Paul in opening the Missions’ Ujima House on Broad Street for the families. Ujima originally was the convent for the first Sisters who ministered with the Missions. The local parish provided pots, pans and plates for the families and friends who set up temporary homes in Selma.

Having their own kitchen and place to sleep and bathe was a great blessing.

“We are so grateful,” said Dora’s son, Gerardo Caceres II. “This is a beautiful place to stay — and so much better than a shelter or trying to pay for hotel rooms. We’ve been truly blessed.”

The families left New Orleans at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The journey, which should have taken five hours, took 12 hours, most of it just getting out of New Orleans.

“It took us four hours to go about 40 miles,” Caceres said.

They were thankful they found gas for the road, as most gas stations in the city had run out before the weekend.

Like most of the New Orleans residents, this was not their first evacuation. They lived through Hurricane Katrina, escaping to Texas and returning just days later to work in the cleanup industry.

Late Wednesday afternoon, they were trying to find out the condition of their neighborhood. “Everyone tells us something different,” said Teresa Hayes, Gerardo Caceres’ wife, who has been calling friends who had already returned.

Despite the threat of more storms and the possibility of no power, they were all anxious to get home and get to the business of cleaning up and getting back to work.

“I don’t even care if we don’t have electricity or water,” Dora said, “I just want to go home. It’s where my heart is.

The Edmundite Missions has served the poor of rural Alabama for 71 years with outreach ministries providing food, shelter, clothing, elder care, education and emergency assistance in four counties. Edmundite priests serve two parishes in the South, Queen of Peace in Selma and St. Peter Claver in New Orleans.