Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Katrina Hero #465

Mukund Patel made sure dozens of storm evacuees had food to eat and a roof over their heads.

"Patel has been a beacon in a storm that continued well after the hurricane had passed, the evacuees said.

Debra Kelly told about the mistreatment of her pregnant daughter at a shelter near their home in Roberts, La., then getting price-gouged when gassing up at a convenience store in Collins.

"If it was not for Mr. Patel and the Cain family at First Baptist Church, we'd be on the street or in our car," she said. "They're like angels from heaven."

All 39 of the available rooms at the motel were filled with people fleeing the storm when it struck and at least 17 were still there this week. The First Baptist shelter shut down this week.

"He's letting us stay here for free while some people are out there double-charging," said Fuller, whose grandmother, Jewlene Fuller, is buried in Kosciusko.

But the Patels' hospitality didn't start there. When the electricity was knocked out on the day of the storm, Patel and his wife Hasu -- who were fasting that day in accordance with their Hindu faith -- cooked a giant pot of rice pulav to feed all the guests. The next morning, they made coffee for everyone.

The day after the storm, Patel gathered the guests together and told them they could stay as long as they needed -- just send him a check when they were able. Two days later, after some either went to where their homes had been or got word that their homes were destroyed, Patel announced that everyone could stay for free as long as they needed to.

"I told them I will not take any of their money,"

he said. "Some of them insisted, but they lost everything ... I can't take their money.

"God blessed Kosciusko to not receive much damage, so we're lucky to serve the people," said Patel, who retired after 28 years as a "plant doctor" for Mississippi State extension service and bought the motel in November 2001. "God gave us an opportunity to serve and that's what we're trying to do."

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