The Die-Hards Stock Up, Hunker Down

In St. Bernard Parish, which was devastated by Katrina, Eddie Tompkins, left, and Mark Mazzoli stockpiled supplies and prepared to weather Gustav.
In St. Bernard Parish, which was devastated by Katrina, Eddie Tompkins, left, and Mark Mazzoli stockpiled supplies and prepared to weather Gustav. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 1, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 31 -- Angelique Robinson and her five children waited with their suitcases at the train station Sunday for a bus to go somewhere -- anywhere far enough from this threatened city.

Robinson said she learned her lesson three years ago, when her family remained in their working-class Upper Ninth Ward neighborhood only to see Hurricane Katrina devastate their home. "It was a nightmare," said the 37-year-old homemaker.

But as Robinson fled the city with her children Sunday, her husband remained hunkered down -- stubbornly -- at home. His is a case of "foolish pride," she said.

Asked why her husband is refusing to heed the warning from alarmed city officials, she reasoned: "He feels like he'd be abandoning his city."

Thousands fled Sunday in advance of Hurricane Gustav, but while New Orleans felt like a ghost town, residents across the region ignored the current warnings and the lessons of 2005 and opted to stay put. Officials say that while they persuaded 1.9 million people to leave -- the largest evacuation in Louisiana history -- about 10,000 people remained in New Orleans and about 100,000 in the coastal parishes.

Many refuse to evacuate out of pride. "It's an old family tradition," said Edward Watson, 56, an airport worker who lives in Kenner, west of New Orleans. "We never did leave during a hurricane."

Aline Wegmann, 54, a waitress and cook at a family diner, said she will not leave her brick home in Harvey, which is in dangerous territory south of New Orleans near the Gulf of Mexico. When asked who will ride out the storm with her, she said: "Me, myself and I."

"I stay for all of them," Wegmann said. "I never run away from a hurricane. I've been through them all -- through Katrina. I was in Mississippi for one. I was 7 years old for Betsy, and I stayed for Betsy. Every time there's a storm, I just don't go."

In the French Quarter, Chris Stoddard spent the afternoon relaxing in a plastic chair on the balcony above Mango Mango Daiquiris, the bar where he serves drinks. He decided to cocoon inside the red-brick building with his mother.

"She just doesn't want to go," said Stoddard, 20, leaning back in a plastic chair, his feet propped on the decorative iron railing of his balcony, smoking a cigarette. "This is her home. She didn't leave for Katrina and she doesn't want to leave now."

Most restaurants and stores here are closed and boarded up, but Mr. Chubby's Cheesesteaks remained open into Sunday evening, serving hungry journalists and emergency officials. A handwritten sign outside read: "NEVER SURRENDER. God Bless NOLA. Defend to the End. We Ain't Going Nowhere."

"As long as they're here, we're here," said waiter Dominic Serino. "We're going to serve in kayaks if we have to."

Even in St. Bernard Parish, the rural outpost sandwiched between New Orleans and the Louisiana wetlands that was among the most devastated in Katrina, Mark Mazzoli and his neighbor, Eddie Tompkins, calmly awaited Gustav.

Officials warned that wind, rain and a storm surge would devastate their home, yet Mazzoli and Tompkins rejected evacuation warnings. On Sunday, they stockpiled water, food, propane and gasoline in their two-story wood apartment building.

"I'm ready," said Tompkins, 49. "Right now, it's either be ready or be gone. I'm not gone, so I'm ready."

Andrew Joseph, 54, was sitting on his front porch in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward, a man alone. All around him, the businesses that stayed open during Katrina were closed. The people who remained during that storm were gone, too, including his wife, whom he sent to Houston for Gustav. "In my gut I feel this thing is really not as bad a hurricane," he said. "I think this thing has been blown completely out of proportion for the sake of federal and local officials so they can save face for dropping the ball on Katrina."

Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth in Jefferson Parish, La., and staff photographer Jahi Chikwendiu in St. Bernard Parish, La., contributed to this report.

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