Charley Gowland and his wife Peggy beat the crowds out of Louisiana ahead of Hurricane Katrina, but they weren't fleeing-they were heading to Baltimore to celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary.
Mr. Gowland, who owns Chabill's Tire Service Inc., based in Morgan City, almost 100 miles west of New Orleans, watched helplessly as Hurricane Katrina hit. He operates 11 stores along Interstate 90 up to Lafayette, La. Southwest Airlines switched his destination to Houston, and he and his wife flew in, rented a car and were back in Lafayette by the evening of Aug. 29. His shops suffered mostly minimal damage.
His concern then was for other tire dealers in harder-hit areas. ``We really came out of this unscathed compared to some of these people,'' he said.
Though he had generators ready to go at all locations, they weren't needed for long. Also, his employees are safe though some were absent for awhile as their homes were in areas where the power was out for a longer time. Around his shops, the most visible effect of the storm may well be the evacuees swelling the population in Morgan City and surrounding areas.
``The community's really reacted extremely well to accommodate everybody,'' he said. ``...On that side, it's kind of heartwarming to see how well people react to somebody else's misfortune.''
The population increase also likely will give Chabill's more business in the future, but the disruption has put buying tires and fixing cars on almost everyone's back burner.
Chabill's commercial side, however, is extremely busy as the company services trucks for the offshore oil industry in the area. Chabill's serves many customers in Port Fourchon, near Grand Isle. ``It's a vital link for the oil industry,'' he said.
Like many people affected by Hurricane Katrina, for Mr. Gowland business is just one side of the impact.
Mr. Gowland had 11 family members living with him soon after the storm, including his brother and sister-in-law plus many members of her extended family. And a dog.
The loss of his sister-in-law's family house weighs on them. ``Theirs was in the area where the levee burst, and they were right up next to that, so they probably had 15 feet of water in the house that they've been living in all their life,'' Mr. Gowland said.
He also traveled with his brother Paul to Jefferson Parish on Sept. 5, one of the first areas reopened to homeowners. A neighbor had stayed behind to watch for looters in the neighborhood. Mr. Gowland's brother affectionately called him ``Rambo'' since he had shaved his head, grown out his beard and generally looked the part-but luckily didn't face many looters.
The house had only some roof and water damage, and Mr. Gowland said they would rebuild.
``Those people are survivors,'' he said. ``They're going to make out all right in the long term.''