Originally created 09/16/99

Night spent in shelter peaceful for large family



As the evening closed in Wednesday, a steady cooling breeze whispered through the magnolias and ornamental pears sheltering the courtyard at the Alleluia Community School.

Brothers Vincent and Marcus Pinkney stretched out on sleeping bags in the grass, munching on animal cookies and potato chips, ready for their second night away from home in the small town of Meridian, a few miles inland from Sapelo Island on the Georgia coast.

Traveling in a convoy, 38 members of the Pinkney clan -- siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles -- had journied more than eight hours, making their way through the logjam of evacuees fleeing Hurricane Floyd as it menaced the Atlantic Coast.

"A Jeep Cherokee, a Rodeo, a Chevy pickup, a Chrysler ..." 14-year-old Vincent attempted to reel off a laundry list of the 10-vehicle family caravan which brought them to Augusta from McIntosh County on Tuesday.

"A Ram," interrupted 11-year-old Marcus, adding to the total.

"Wasn't no Ram," chided Vincent. "It was one of those new white Chrysler cars." The tallying dissolved into mild bickering.

But the two could agree on one thing -- the name of the man who organized the family exodus, guiding them to shelter at the Alleluia Community: "Uncle Sammie."

"You know, he's like the rich man in the family," Vincent explained.

By his own admission, Sammie Pinkney, a retired New York City police officer, is the patriarch of the extended Pinkney family in McIntosh County.

"I do my best to take care of all of them," said Mr. Pinkney, who is now in the funeral business. "Even if it is three o'clock in the morning, they know they can call me and I will come."

But the father of 12 and grandfather of 23 Pinkneys laughed at the "rich" characterization of his nephew. "I'm rich with the blessings of God," he said.

Walking the school grounds in the late evening, Mr. Pinkney kept a watchful eye on the family as the evacuees began bedding down. Most were clustered on cots and pallets in the school gymnasium, which hummed with quiet conversations and the noise of electric fans drawing in the night air through open doors and windows.

After a while, Vincent and Marcus were joined on the lawn by their brother Danny, and a cousin, Robert Brown, both 15, and the camp broke out in an extended pillow fight.

But by 1 a.m., fatigue had taken hold of them like everyone else.

The Pinkney family and an equally large group from Savannah made up the majority of the 90 or so folks taking shelter at the school.

More than 100 others were taken into homes of community members, said Aaron Killips, whose family has been a part of the Alleluia Community since 1985.

Mr. Killips, a recent graduate of Augusta State University, was on the night watch, listening to the Atlanta Braves lose to the San Diego Padres on a portable radio.

With the storm turning away from the Georgia Coast, Wednesday night was less frenetic than the night before, when the impromptu shelter was opened.

"Last night we were making things up as we went along," he said.

REACH

S.B. Crawford at (706) 823-3217 or scraw@augustachronicle.com.