After storm, shelter family glad for uneventful day

Thursday, February 14, 2008
Darah Luker slept with her 3-month-old daughter, Nevaeh Bard, Wednesday morning in the American Red Cross shelter at Immaculate Conception in Jackson. (Kit Doyle)

Debbie Luker was relaxed, warm and safe with her family around her.

The night had been uneventful, except for the couple who whispered to each other and 6-year-old granddaughter Ressi Carlton's tossing as she pursued sleep in the strange surroundings of the Immaculate Conception School cafeteria in Jackson.

Most of Debbie's household of seven -- husband Ed, daughters Angelynn Carlton, 24, and Darah Luker, 17, 3-month-old granddaughter Nevaeh Bard and Angelynn's boyfriend Jon Schmatz -- arose about 7 a.m. Ressi stayed in bed, dozing under a bright pink blanket.

They ate cold cereal with milk for breakfast and nibbled on crackers later in the day, while members of the Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief team unloaded boxes of food for lunch from a Red Cross truck.

On Wednesday morning, like most others in the shelter, they relived storm experiences and compared notes with others.

Ed Luker read the Bible Wednesday morning at the American Red Cross shelter housed at Immaculate Conception in Jackson. His granddaughter Ressi Luker, 6, woke up as his daughter, Angie Carlton-Luker, Ressi's mother, checked herself in a mirror. (Kit Doyle)

Debbie Luker and Schmatz have both lived through bad winters in northern Illinois, near Chicago.

"This is the worst, and I've been in freezing before," he said.

The night before, Debbie greeted a visitor who interrupted the family game of Uno with all the warmth she would show welcoming a friend into her home.

"I've got seven in my household," Debbie said proudly.

But instead of a comfortable chair or sofa, the seats were hard lunchroom chairs; around the family were about 40 other people, refugees from Jackson and surrounding areas who had also found their way to the school.

Some lay dozing on cots provided by the Red Cross. A handful watched a television that included a scroll of closings caused by the storm. The gathering -- families with children, older people using walkers and all ages in between -- was ad hoc. Some came because they have no family in the region; others, like Angel England of Leopold, Mo., knew they couldn't return to their homes from work. A nurse, England collected her daughter, Keigan, from day care and volunteered to help the Red Cross run the shelter. Greeting new arrivals along with England on Tuesday night, Jennifer Davis said her home in Jackson had no power.

Hotels throughout the area are full; many people cannot stay with family members because they, too, have no power.

For the Lukers, refugees from a house in Stonybrook subdivision, the Jackson shelter provided the protection their cold home surrounded by trees could not. The power went out between 10 and 11 p.m. Monday.

Darah Luker, mother of Nevaeh -- pronounced NA-vay-ah and is "heaven" spelled backward -- said the storm's sounds, once power was gone, were nerve-wracking. "After it started going off, you could hear a lot of banging because the trees were breaking off," Darah said. "I was scared one of the trees was going to hit the house."

The fear was well-founded, Debbie said. In the daylight Tuesday, she found a large limb that had stopped just inches from a window.

Throughout the sleepless night, Ed Luker said he counted the crashes of falling trees. By dawn, he'd heard 36.

The family's only vehicle, a 1998 Chrysler, was stranded near Burfordville on Monday. Debbie left it as she tried to return from a trip to the grocery. A neighbor in a four-wheel drive sport utility vehicle saw her in distress and brought her home.

Without the car, Angelynn Carlton had called in Tuesday to her job at a William Street convenience store to say she couldn't make it.

Escape adventure

Escaping the ice-bound subdivision became an adventure in itself, she said. The decision to leave, she said, came when Debbie, who had a 26-year career as a nurse, noticed that Navaeh was losing too much body heat.

After a series of calls, Debbie Luker said she reached the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department for aid midmorning Tuesday. "I told them what was happening and they made sure we were taken care of," she said.

Their rescuer, a captain in the Whitewater Fire Department, arrived in a four-wheel-drive vehicle after navigating through the debris of downed trees along County Road 382. "I can't say enough about him," Debbie Luker said. "I have never been treated that kind."

The family lives on four wooded acres in a subdivision full of steep hills. Behind their property is 100 more acres of woods.

Deeply religious, they carried a large, well-worn Bible to the shelter, though either of the elder Lukers can quote passages by heart.

"Lean not into your own understanding," Debbie Luker said, is the passage from Proverbs she leaned on while waiting for a ride.

After two days of adventures, the family was content Wednesday morning to have an uneventful morning. Schmatz talked aloud of his hope that the storm could be a blessing -- he's had a tough time finding work lately as home construction has slowed.

"I'm hoping roofing picks up," he said.

Ressi finally stirred, stretched and worked her way out of the cot. She sat at the long table with her grandparents while eating cereal.

Debbie Luker worked a jigsaw puzzle. Ed Luker read a big Bible. Nevaeh decided she was hungry and fussed. Schmatz and the sisters ducked outside for a smoke.

Carlton said she planned on going to work.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 126

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611 extension 127

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