ADA - The Royals are at home here in Ada following their evacuation from Marrero, La., and say they have no plans to return to their home on the outskirts of New Orleans in the community in Jefferson Parish. Marrero, located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, did not experience heavy flooding from Katrina, however officials said a shift in the storm's trajectory about 30 miles west would have swamped the area with a tremendous surge such as that suffered by St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes.

When the call to evacuate came ahead of hurricane Katrina, the Royals could not get on a bus to leave the city, so they hitchhiked. A trucker picked them up and took them to Baton Rouge where they were taken by Angel Flight to Holdenville, Okla. From Holdenville, they were taken to the Pontotoc County American Red Cross Chapter in Ada by Loretta Abney.

“I was so scared,” said Shirley Royal. “The 18-wheeler had to turn around on the highway when we couldn’t get through because of flooding. We were dropped off at a bus station in Baton Rouge where help was supposed to be. We just couldn’t get connected with anyone for a couple of days, until finally someone took us to the airport,” she said.

“I felt like it was something I needed to do,” said Loretta Abney, a member of the Center Freewill Baptist Church, when asked why she helped the Royals. “I made up my mind that I was going to find (an evacuee family) to help, to tell them we loved them and that we cared.” All the large churches around Ada came together, partnered in a big effort to accommodate evacuees. “The whole church body felt the need to help, nurses were involved, Ken Vandeveer from Atwood brought in an empty semi for clothing donations to be dropped off,” she said. Abney’s daughter serves on the board of a homeless shelter in Holdenville and knew about the evacuations being done by Angel Flight.

Angel Flight America is a 501 (c) (3), tax exempt charitable organization, with over 6,200 private pilots taking time from their jobs and families to assist in live saving efforts. They have helped in reuniting families separated during the evacuation and relocating families out of shelters that have confirmed safe housing elsewhere.

Local churches also came together to get the Royals situated in a rental property, gave thema house warming, and a van. The Robertsons, owners of Ada Alignment and Tire Company put new tires on the van.

Gregory Royal now works at Glenwood Early Childhood Development Center as head custodian. “The kids at the school all call me Mr. Greg. I think the school will be around for a while, so I’m doing much better now.” Royal had a few setbacks after arriving in Ada; his job at Flex-n-Gate didn’t last long with the company layoffs, and a part-time job with a small local cleaning company didn’t work out.

Sandy Poe, principal at Glenwood, said “Mr. Royal is an inspiration to have at the center; his attitude is outstanding. He relocated because of a disaster, not because he chose to move. He could have the attitude of ‘God, how awful I’ve had it’, but instead he has a great spirit to take the next step to do what he needs to do. He’s making his home here in Ada, a safe place to live after Katrina. It’s inspirational to others that he has begun life again with the attitude that things will work out. He’s not the kind of guy to take handouts, he has been a perfect match for the volunteers that helped him get settled, in that he works hard, takes pride in his job and conducts himself professionally. We had a “celebration” for him at the school after his job probation was up. We all dressed in royal blue and gave him the ‘Royal Treatment.’ ”

Shirley Royal, a cancer survivor, has only positive things to say about the people of Ada. “They helped us settle in here. We didn’t have it nearly as hard as other people. We’re going to make Ada our home.”

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