By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Joe Scheuermann and Bob Woods (pictured) followed very different routes to evade the initial havoc and destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
One exit was planned. The other was quite simply, a desperate evacuation.
The two coaches with Johnstown ties and their respective families still are dealing with the aftermath and anguish Katrina created in one of the country’s most devastating disasters.
Scheuermann, the veteran baseball manager of the New Orleans Recreation Department Boosters AAABA team, evacuated his Lakeview home near Lake Pontchartrain before the hurricane struck Monday morning. He and his family are staying in a Baton Rouge hotel.
Scheuermann’s family members had been told they won’t be able to return to what is left of their home for four months, so he spent Wednesday afternoon searching for an apartment to rent in Baton Rouge, which is about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans.
“Our biggest problem is we’re trying to find housing,” Scheuermann said. “We’re living in a hotel room. I have my mom in another room. I have my brother in another room guaranteed through Friday. After Friday we really don’t have anywhere to live. They’re talking about not letting anybody back into New Orleans for at least another 30 days. Quite frankly, we don’t know what we’re going back to. I’ve been told my house is 30 feet under water.
“My mother’s house apparently is OK. My brother’s house in Covington has a tremendous amount of destruction. His house is inhabitable.”
Woods, a former captain of the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs, accepted an assistant coaching position with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in late July. Prior to that, he spent four seasons as head coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves in Biloxi. Woods also played three years for the Sea Wolves and was on the 1999 Kelly Cup championship team.
In a stroke of coincidence and good timing, Woods, his wife, Mary Sue, and their two sons, Brendan and Colin, moved to Hershey last Tuesday.
The family had sold their Biloxi house and were scheduled to close the deal in two weeks. Now, the roof is gone and the home is severely damaged. The Woodses also probably lost a truckload of their possessions stored in Biloxi and set to be shipped North.
“Still, I’m very fortunate to be in the situation I’m in,” Woods said during a telephone interview Wednesday from Hershey. “We were supposed to close on our house on the 15th. That isn’t happening. But then again, I do have a home to go back to in Hershey. I feel terrible for what everybody has got to go through down there. I’ve been through hurricanes down there, but nothing compared to this. I don’t even know where they start.
“We’ve got friends down there and we know they stayed,” Woods added. “They weren’t in very good areas. We’re worried about them. It’s frustrating. You can’t call anybody.”
Woods and Hershey head coach Bruce Boudreau, a former Johnstown Jets player, are preparing for the upcoming AHL training camp. Woods has forged ahead, but admits there have been distractions.
“(Washington Capitals head coach) Glen Hanlon came in Tuesday. He’s going over depth charts. You’re talking systems,” Woods said. “But the phone is ringing and you’ve got the TV going. Your mind is not where it needs to be right now as far as hockey. But our minds are on what’s going on down there. I feel bad for everybody that lives down there. I feel bad for the hockey organization. “Pensacola was able to play last year after Hurricane Ivan’s damage. But I think this is a lot worse.”
Mississippi Coast Coliseum was directly in Katrina’s path. Photographs show one of the Biloxi casino barges that literally was lifted out of the Gulf of Mexico and dropped into a coliseum parking lot.
“The coliseum is only 13 feet above sea level,” Woods said. “A 25-foot storm surge. You do the math.”
Even though Woods and his family are safe, his heart is still in Biloxi.
“It’s been home,” Woods said. “The history you have there. The people you know. The friends. The kids that your kids grew up with. It’s a tough deal. My wife has been crying for three days. She’s scared because she can’t get in touch with any of her friends. We’re praying that they survived and are all right.
“Tell the people of Johnstown we said hello, we’re all right, and anything they can do to help out down South will be greatly appreciated,” Woods said.
Scheuermann’s annual trip to Johnstown for the AAABA Tournament has provided a glimpse of the damage that raging floodwaters can cause.
“I’ve often been in the Johnstown Flood Museum and thought, ‘My God, how did people deal with this?’” he said. “It’s almost like the Johnstown Flood Museum and you’re watching the film. Water is just gushing throughout the city and people are trying to get out. It’s like I’ve been there before.”
But nothing could prepare him for the destruction that he has seen in New Orleans.
“It’s like a war zone,” Scheuermann said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The New Orleans manager has already seen an outpouring of support from his adopted city of Johnstown.
“I’ve gotten unbelievable voice mails from the Johnstown area,” said Scheuermann, who asked that his e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) be printed in order to enable Johnstowners to reach him. “I want to thank everybody and ask them to continue praying for us.”