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Hurricane Ida evacuees in Pine Bluff hotel waiting out the storm

Exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina, evacuees are in the natural state to get out of Hurricane Ida's path.

PINE BLUFF, Ark — Outside the Holiday Inn Express in Pine Bluff, you can find Louisiana license plates in the parking lot. Exactly 16 years after Hurricane Katrina, evacuees are in the natural state to get out of Hurricane Ida's path.

Lacey and Stacey Schouest are twin sisters from Larose, Louisiana. 

They drove seven hours from home Friday along with their kids, Miracle, 5, and Ayden, 3, ahead of the storm and landed at the hotel in Pine Bluff.

"Our mom just said to travel north. I took my daughter and left first and then I picked up my sister because her car broke down and we just found this hotel here Pine Bluff," said Stacey.

She said their mom and dad stayed behind to ride out the storm. 

They've been in it for the last ten hours.

She said on Friday she had been trying to get her mom to leave.

"We lost our house in Katrina, but my mom and dad decided to stay. My mom said everybody's house around her is gone," said Stacey.

Lacey said they're worried about everybody back home.

The area is in and out of phone service according to friends who have been trying to contact them. They claimed that towers were down and the water is off.  

"Nobody is actually saying anything about Larose, Galliano, Grand Isle. Grand Isle is actually 15 minutes from my house. Everybody's 'New Orleans,' 'New Orleans,' 'New Orleans,' so a lot of people's been sharing cause no one's hearing about the Bayou that it directly hit," said Lacey.

She said her son Ayden cries every night to go home.

Life in Pine Bluff, Arkansas is different from life back at home for the time being. 

Lacey said one culture shock was not being able to get alcohol on Sundays. 

"I needed a drink so bad yesterday. My brother-in-law said he was going to buy me some and he came back to tell me, 'That's why them people were looking at me. This is a dry county. They don't sell on Sundays,'" said Lacey.

They've been keeping up with information on their home via social media. 

They want to go home, but they are told it may take time before they'll be able to pass through. Their story is only one of the many evacuees who have traveled to Arkansas because of Hurricane Ida. 

Meanwhile, there are volunteer Arkansans heading to the storm and currently down south to help out with recovery and rescue.

The owner of Little Rock Coaches Cary Martin said they were dispatched to New Orleans Thursday afternoon in order to help people evacuate. 

A normal coach can hold about 55 passengers, but with COVID they have to cut those numbers of space in half. 

They have 6 coaches currently in Louisiana.

"It's intense. It's very emotional, but these guys are prepared for it. They go out ready for the worse. They're camping on the motor coaches. Deployments like this can last several days or several weeks," said Martin.

He said once they're dispatched, they're under the care of the federal government and FEMA who can keep the coaches for as long as they determine necessary.

Robert Hambly is the motorcoach operator for Little Rock Coaches and said he was the first vehicle to lead the way and check-in for the operations. They initially helped a group in need of wheelchair assistance ahead of the storm.

"I had 18 wheelchairs on my vehicle. We evacuated them north to Kentwood to another assisted living facility and unloaded them there. So far, that's the only evacuations we've done but we're about the only ones who have done the only evacuations," said Hambly.

They're on standby for any and all evacuations.

More than 500 Entergy Arkansas workers are ready to help recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Chris Brown with Entergy Arkansas said he and his crews don't know really what to expect until they get there.

"I'm leading a team of 74 Entergy Arkansas employees to restore power. So far details are trickling in. We're seeing pictures from friends who live in the area. We're getting damage reports that way," said Brown.

Dozens including linemen and tree trimmers are already hard at work restoring power to customers in Mississippi.

The rest of the workers are waiting in south Arkansas until they know for sure that people here won't be impacted. Once they're in the clear, they'll head to parts of Louisiana including New Orleans, where millions of people are without power.