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Storms making for fast friends

In the wake of another hurricane, displaced Floridians are finding some familiar faces in emergency shelters.
Nina Mesen, top, and her daughter, Maya, 10, catch up on some reading in an evacuation center at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla. Sunday.Peter Cosgrove / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Strangers only a month ago, evacuees at one Florida shelter felt like old friends as they rode out Hurricane Jeanne at the same high school where they got acquainted during Hurricane Frances.

Nina Mesen and her daughter were delighted to find familiar faces when they walked into Room 111 of Eau Gallie High School, among them Margot and John Swieton.

“When I saw Margot, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re here again!”’ said Mesen, a bubbly 34-year-old preschool teacher. “When we were here for Frances, we had a ball. The people were incredible.”

Less than a month ago, a third of the room’s 18 evacuees had shared the same linoleum floor for five days.

Ordinarily, Room 111 is home to English classes. The blackboard warns of a vocabulary test for the honors class. Drawings of Albert Einstein and John Lennon are stapled to a bulletin board.

Seeking diversions
While Hurricane Jeanne howled outside, Mesen sprawled on blankets and read People magazine while her daughter watched television.

Judy Waltz, a 65-year-old newcomer to the room, passed out earplugs before everybody went to sleep. Later, Memsen’s daughter and Waltz’s granddaughter read a book together.

“It’s such a nice surprise to find the same people here,” evacuee Sissy Goyetche said.

According to newcomers, the Red Cross-run shelter was luxurious compared with others. There was a dinner of chicken sandwiches and chicken-fried steak in the cafeteria. Coffee was served in the hallways.

Even a Red Cross volunteer referred to the shelter as the “Hotel Eau Gallie” when announcing over a loud speaker that lights would be turned out at 11 p.m.

Newcomers recalled being served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for five straight days at a different shelter during Frances.

“One day, they said we were going to have a surprise,” said 16-year-old Paul Heyliger. “The surprise was that we got zucchini with our peanut butter and jelly.”