Hurricane Florence evacuees begin pouring into Georgia

Evacuees from North and South Carolina began arriving in Georgia on Tuesday, where they are planning to wait out the expected wrath of Hurricane Florence as it makes its way across both states and portions of Virginia.

While it was impossible to know the exact number of people flowing into Georgia, relief agencies, religious organizations, hotels, campgrounds and concerned citizens across the state were preparing for their arrival as evacuation orders from governors in all three states went into effect.

Florence, which has winds of at least 130 mph, making it a Category 4 storm, is one of the most powerful and dangerous storms to take aim at the Carolinas in some time. National Hurricane Center models that predict the hurricane’s path show its outer bands missing Georgia, though the northeast portion of the state may see some heavy rains as Florence makes landfall near Wilmington, N.C., on Friday.

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Torri Gayle, who with her husband, Robert, manages River Falls at the Gorge Campgrounds near Lake Rabun, said she has been fielding calls for reservations and checking in evacuees since Monday. She said the campgrounds have 141 sites for RVs and campers, and she expects they will be full before the end of the week.

“They all wait until the very last minute and then they scramble,” Torri Gayle said. “The same thing happened with (Hurricane) Irma.”

Gayle said some customers who had booked reservations for this coming weekend long before the storm began gathering in the Atlantic have offered to relinquish their reservations for evacuees. Some local residents have offered to cook meals for evacuees should they need them, Gayle said.

A.B. Campbell and his wife, Lulu, are from Alabama but have a home in North Carolina, where they were staying when the evacuation order came in. They pulled into the Sugar Mill Creek RV Resort at Lake Burton in Clarkesville, Ga., on Tuesday, where they intended to wait out the hurricane.

“We lived in Florida for a while, so we understand hurricanes real well, and we wanted to get somewhere where we were safe,” A.B. Campbell said. “You never know what they are going to do.”

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Melissa Shell, an owner of Sugar Mill Creek RV Resort, was checking in evacuees Tuesday afternoon, and expected to run out of room by week’s end.

“We’ve had more calls on this one” than during previous hurricanes over the last couple of years, Shell said.

Gwendolyn Coley turned to Facebook to invite people and their animals to stay on her 58-acre farm in Fort Valley. Part of that area is fenced in, where owners can put larger animals such as horses and goats. She also has two cabins that sleep as many as 20 people.

“I know that if I needed to evacuate, I have horse friends and other friends that I’m sure would do the same thing,” she said. “I opened this to friends, but if someone else contacted me, I would even take in a stranger.”

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR-Georgia Chapter, said mosques around the state are putting plans in place to open their doors as shelters to people in the path of the hurricane, as they did during Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“Most mosques are open spaces,” he said. “So they can fit a lot of people.”

Last year, 15 Georgia mosques sheltered nearly 1,000 people and also provided food, water and other critical items, said Hamid Qureshi, regional director of ICNA Relief.

The American Red Cross of Georgia is working with local municipalities to determine shelter needs as the storm bears down on the coasts, said Sherry Nicholson, spokesperson for the organization.

While no Red Cross shelters have been opened yet in Georgia, the state branch has sent 15 tractor-trailers loaded with supplies to the Carolinas, Nicholson said. Cots, blankets, toiletries and other essentials are being sent to designated areas in those states, and Georgia volunteers have been put on standby to deploy after the storm makes landfall, Nicholson said. Union City, Ga., has one of eight Red Cross Disaster Field Centers in the nation.

Atlanta Motor Speedway, located about 25 miles south of Atlanta, will open its camping facilities to Florence evacuees.

The campgrounds, which are equipped to handle thousands of campers during the track’s annual NASCAR weekend, will again be made available free of charge for dry RV and tent campers in the Legends Campground.

In 2017, more than 100 campers parked at the Speedway during Hurricane Irma.

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