Hurricane Matthew evacuees who fled to Columbia as the storm advances shared their accounts Thursday of the hitting the road to safety.
Some found the ride stressful.
Others said that, compared to the interstate mess in 1999 caused by Hurricane Floyd, the trip was manageable.
All are stressing about what the storm surge from Matthew might do to their coastal homes – while members of a bus-tour group from Arkansas just hates they didn’t get a chance to visit Charleston.
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“It took me five hours to get up here,” said Marilyn Smith, a retired travel agent from Connecticut who moved to Mt. Pleasant 2 1/2 months ago. “Me and my GPS – not knowing where Columbia was. Do I stop? Do I tinkle? Do I not tinkle?”
The cost of her four-night stay in a hotel room, which Smith called “outrageous,” is more than she can handle for much longer. “I’ll have to get a job,” she joked as she walked Columbia’s Vista entertainment district.
Pets Inc. in West Columbia is coping with 70 extra animals evacuated from the All 4 Paws shelter on Pawleys Island.
“It’s all hands on deck,” Pets Inc. director Sammy Wullmer said.
Pets Inc. also is helping people who evacuated to Columbia find homes and kennels able to foster their dogs and cats for a few days. Midlands evacuation shelters are not taking pets, and neither are many motels and hotels.
Volunteers are needed to help care for the temporary influx, Wullmer said. Donations of food and blankets also are welcome. Call (803) 739-9333 or go online at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tina Brown of James Island, on her third hurricane-forced evacuation, managed to find a hotel that accepted pets for her dachshund, Tucker. But she had to pay a fee to cover any damage Tucker might do.
Brown said she was shocked to find Columbia hotel prices online that reached to $2,000 per night. “There were some that were $1,500 to $2,000. They were in more ritzy places than the hotel she selected, she said.
If the evacuation lasts long, she and the friend who made the trip with her plan to stay with the friend’s daughter, who is attending college in Columbia.
“What’s going to happen when we get back home?” Brown said of her residence, which is within a mile of deep water.
Jim and Carla Bradshaw of Hilton Head Island live on the water at Calibogue Sound. They left Wednesday for Columbia with eventual plans to meet their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Atlanta if the storm lingers.
“It’s always difficult when you leave your home and you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Carla Bradshaw said.
“We are glad we left early,” her husband said, “But it’s the anxiety of the unknown.”
The couple boarded up their home, but Jim Bradshaw said he did not have time to protect his real estate properties.
Nancy Joerss and her sister Catherine Donnelly came to town Tuesday from Florida for the Fort Jackson recruit graduation of Catherine’s son, Nick Donnelly. Theirs is an Army family, the sisters said.
“We’re more concerned about driving back – no hotels, no gas,” Catherine Donnelly said. “We’re thinking we may have to sleep in the car. We’re buying water.”
“I’m more worried about mom,” who stayed in Florida, Joerss said. “She lives in a trailer, and she’s 86.”
Sterlin Casseus, 20, and his girlfriend left Charleston when Gov. Nikki Haley issued the evacuation notice.
Everywhere they went to get gas, he said, “you saw the signs: Out of service. Out of Service.”
The weather wasn’t too bad, but the wind had picked up, he said. So they decided not to take any chances.
You see the stories of flash floods, he said at the evacuation shelter at White Knoll High School. “You just don’t want to be one of those people out there who are swamped out.”
For many of the 46 travelers from Arkansas and Georgia on a charter bus, this was their first encounter with a hurricane.
They left Myrtle Beach earlier than planned and arrived in Columbia Thursday without first visiting Charleston as planned, said Larinda Rainwater, one of the organizers of the tour on a Cowtown Charters bus.
The diversion showed them something few visitors see – little traffic in Myrtle Beach. “It was like a ghost town,” Rainwater said.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t see Charleston,” she said. “But that’s OK. We’ll see it another time.”
Sylvia Blake and her family were among 61 people, including 20 children, at the shelter at Dent Middle School Thursday night. As many as 200 are expected, said shelter supervisor Carolyn Johnson.
“We all live in mobile homes now,” Blake, a home health aide from Beaufort, said of her large extended family. “We got them big, double-wides,” but they’re not stable enough to risk their lives, she said.
Blake is eager to return home. “Just as soon as I hear that it has passed or turned,” she said of the storm, “I’m outta here.”
Coping with a hurricane is new for Goran Wilgothson, an executive helping Volvo set up its car manufacturing plant in the Lowcountry.
Windstorms off the sea are common in his native Sweden, but “we don’t have this experience,” he said.
His family’s stay at a Vista hotel in Columbia was its first visit here since settling in Mount Pleasant two months ago, with Riverbanks Zoo an instant favorite.
The early morning drive to the Midlands Wednesday went smoothly, Wilgothson said. His main challenge getting family members up early.
The evacuation meant an unexpected trip back home to Forest Acres for Kyle Williams of Mount Pleasant.
He took the back roads Wednesday, saying, “I got to see the finest of rural South Carolina.”
Williams isn’t taking it easy. He’s working in the kitchen at the Whole Foods supermarket near Fort Jackson as a favor to a friend.
“It’s an unexpected working vacation,” he said.
He’s not upset about the evacuation after helping repair devastation left by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago on the Gulf Coast.
“I don’t mess with hurricanes in the slightest,” Williams said. “I give hurricanes a wide berth.”