Hurricane Florence Evacuees Find Shelter In Hotels, Schools, Racetracks As Far As Atlanta
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When guests arrived at Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club and JB Duke Hotel in nearby Durham, North Carolina, over the past few days, they were greeted with unusual arrival gifts: glow sticks and flashlights.
Both of the hotels expected to be nearly at capacity Monday for scheduled conferences, but all of their conference guests canceled in anticipation of Hurricane Florence’s arrival. That allowed space for the hotel to accommodate some of the million-plus hurricane evacuees that were ordered to leave their coastal towns in the Carolinas and Virginia.
American Red Cross officials said more than 20,000 people stayed overnight Saturday in more than 200 Red Cross and Community Shelters in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland and Kentucky.
As Hurricane Florence approached, the hotels started to near full capacity again.
“Instead of folks with badges attending conferences, you’ll see families that are quite obviously going to ride out the storm here,” Schmidt said. "We’ve got about 10 times the pets we usually see."
The pet-friendly hotel generally restricts animals to just a handful of guest rooms, but during this time, the policy has been relaxed. Before the storm this week, the room rates at the luxury hotels were nearly $300 a night. With Florence approaching, a $149 distressed rate has been implemented.
“We have a policy here not only not to gouge, but to make it very affordable for folks,” he said.
Having a safe place to stay momentarily might offer just a sliver of relief to those who fear losing everything. On Sunday evening, Hurricane Florence had claimed 18 lives in the Carolinas, with a CNN report warning “the worst is yet to come” with more rainfall and flooding on the way. Hundreds of people were being rescued, trapped by rising water. More than 750,000 customers were without power in both states.
Wind and storm surge damages could cause $3B-$5B in insured property loss for residential and commercial properties across the Carolinas, according to a CoreLogic Analysis on Thursday.
A CoStar report showed $33B in commercial real estate is at risk due to the storm, which could lead to heavy losses for insurance and reinsurance providers.
Along with the flashlights and glow sticks, guests at the Washington Duke Inn were given letters upon check-in with with instructions for weathering the storm should it get bad in Durham: keep drapes closed to help protect against debris that could break windows, remain in the room until instructed about safe locations throughout the building.
Employees were invited to stay on-site with their families, and they have also been given sensitivity training.
“These folks probably have a lot of anxiety,” Schmidt said. "Many of them are separated from their homes and their belongings and don't know what they’re going to go back to."
Hotels, Short-Term Rentals Open Their Doors
Communities and businesses all over the region scrambled to accommodate evacuees. Atlanta hotels showed some hotel vacancies, but not many.
“Atlanta is typically a destination many evacuate to, due to our inland location and large inventory of hotel properties,” Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau spokesman Travis Currie said.
Marriott Hotels implemented storm preparation protocols for their properties in Florence’s path. Kimpton Hotels offered displaced travelers a 35% discount until Sept. 30. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, Ocean Resort Casino offered complimentary accommodations to anyone from the storm’s impact zone.
“We completely understand the concern for families and the community during times like this, so we want to do our part by providing somewhere safe, warm and dry to those impacted by Hurricane Florence,” Ocean Walk, LLC Chairman Bruce Deifik said in a statement.
Airbnb activated its Open Homes program, where people can offer evacuees a place in their homes for free until Oct 1. Airbnb’s Global Head of Social Impact and Philanthropy Kim Rubey said the company would connect guests in need with hosts in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, and Macon, Georgia; Asheville, Charlotte and Greensboro, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Anderson, Columbia, Greenville, Rock Hill and Spartanburg, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Knoxville, Johnson City and Kingsport, Tennessee; and Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Richmond and Roanoke, Virginia.
Even equestrian evacuees can find temporary shelter being offered in Florida. The Jacksonville Equestrian Center offered more than 400 stalls and 60 full hookup RV sites for those evacuating with horses.
Anything Can Be A Shelter
In Charlotte, schools were closed Thursday and Friday to turn some of them into makeshift shelters. At East Mecklenburg High School, 55 evacuees were calling the school gymnasium home on Friday morning. Volunteers unloaded a truck carrying items including hand sanitizer, bananas, hygiene kits, diapers, creamer and sugar.
“Coffee is really important in a shelter,” American Red Cross Regional Communications Officer Jerri Jameson said.
Cots lined the school gymnasium. Dogs, cats, gerbils and rabbits relaxed in cages. The lone animal incident was unusual — volunteers said a dog, perhaps anxious, bit himself on the shoulder. Animal Control was on its way to administer medicine.
Among the guests, there was laughter, tears and a new community forming.
“It never ceases to amaze me the resilience of people in their darkest times,” Jameson said.
The guests often jump in and become makeshift volunteers themselves, offering to serve food or help put away cots, American Red Cross regional CEO for the greater Carolinas Angela Broome Powley said.
“This is their home. People who have never met each other really start taking care of each other.”
The Atlanta and Charlotte Motor Speedways opened up their campgrounds to evacuees.
“While the Charlotte area is not completely out of the region that could face the effects of Hurricane Florence, for many of our neighbors to the east it is a safer alternative or a good stopping point as they seek shelter elsewhere,” Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President Greg Walter said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming anyone who needs a place to stop and to showing them the hospitality they deserve as we ride out this storm together.”
Jim Smith and his family arrived on Wednesday from New Bern, a riverfront town centrally located on the North Carolina coast. They camped out in their RV at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Friday, they were packing up to head to Chesapeake, Virginia, where they would stay with friends until they are able to get home.
“We’ve been in this house 11 years and this is the first time I’ve been fearful,” Smith said. “From what I’ve heard, this is the worst one yet.”