St. Francisville is accustomed to visitors from other locales, and West Feliciana Parish prides itself on its southern charm and hospitality. These traits are certainly appreciated by evacuees from Lake Charles, Cameron and neighbors on the Texas border. To locals, these evacuees may look like other visiting tourists, but each has a story of fleeing before Hurricane Laura and an individual odyssey before landing in St. Francisville.
Anne Butler, founder and proprietor of Butler Greenwood B&B said everyone in the community comes together to help evacuees. "After Katrina, we had over 1,000 in West Feliciana, and churches, doctors, hospitals and inns came together to help our neighbors even before the Red Cross was able to mobilize,” Butler said. Butler, once again, was able to help evacuees from Hurricane Laura find not only a place to stay but a place to regroup in a peaceful surrounding.
Brenda Poche Wood left Kentucky to help her father, John Poche, 92, a builder in the Lake Charles area and his dog, Mylee Jolie Poche, evacuate Lake Charles. After five days and five different one-night stays in various hotels, they were referred to St. Francisville. Poche, after retiring, has become quite an accomplished athlete in the USATF Master’s track and field events. In fact, in 2015 he was named Masters Track and Field Athlete of the year for his age group (80+). Asked his secret to his athletic success, he proudly says, “Stay in shape, don’t die, and outlive your competitors."
Bertrand and Alice Mercier along with their sons Lucien, 9, and Prosper, 11, are natives of Marseilles, France, and they are in Lake Charles for a three-year stay teaching French — Alice for CODOFIL and Bertrand at a French immersion school. The hurricane is a totally new experience for these Europeans. They did not know where to go and did not have experience on where to evacuate. They first headed north and west and stayed in a Dallas hotel for four nights and then tried to make their way back to southwest Louisiana only find all the hotels full and Lake Charles without power or water. With no real plan and nowhere to go, they just started driving east and found St. Francisville. Out of options, they went to the local office of tourism, where the staff called Butler, and the family found a home away from home.
When the hurricane hit, Becky DeRouen’s daughter said, “We’re going to Memphis.” And so they did and stayed at the Guesthouse at Graceland. After a couple of nights, they knew they had to get back to Louisiana. While driving south through Mississippi they called ahead to Butler because Becky’s daughter had stayed at Butler-Greenwood before and — on a whim — suggested there might be an opening. As fate would have it, they got a cottage, and Becky agreed that Butler “is so nice and giving. We feel we are staying with family. We are so lucky to be able to evacuate to this wonderful setting.”
Butler calls the inn a “a place of healing.”
While the unlikely visitors will return to Lake Charles, locals welcoming them hope the guests take with them bit of the healing and culture that is St. Francisville.