In the face of one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the Atlantic region, people across the United States started opening their homes to help evacuees.
From Georgia to North Carolina to Colorado, people offered up accommodation to the hundreds of thousands forced to abandon their homes as Hurricane Irma approaches.
The category 5 storm is currently ploughing through the Caribbean. Based on Irma’s projected path, which includes Florida’s heavily populated eastern coast, the enormous storm could create one of the largest mass evacuations in US history, CNN senior meteorologist Dave Hennen said.
In response, one Facebook Group, named ‘Hurricane Irma Lodging For Evacuees,’ listed people and organizations offering shelter.
“I am in northern North Carolina, away from the coast. If ANYONE needs a place to stay, please do not hesitate to message me!” Lawren Durham wrote. “A few of us up here have room and are willing to take in families/people that have nowhere to go! I am a Katrina survivor… please take the evacuations seriously ❤❤ we are praying for each and every one!”
Durham told CNN she advertised her home on the group after a trip to Walmart hours earlier. “The traffic was heavier than normal and I thought these people may not have anywhere to go,” she said.
Originally from Louisiana but now based in Hamptonville, North Carolina, she said she knows what it feels like to have to evacuate. “Some of my family didn’t have money and stayed for Katrina, and I would hate for people who need to get out stay because they feel they can’t afford it.”
“There’s been so much negativity recently, it just needs to stop” she added.
Brian Adkins, from Pueblo West, Colorado, also offered his home. “I’m a disabled veteran who’s been through the Gulf War, I know what it’s like to be out there with nothing,” he said. “It’s Important to me to open my home to those who need shelter. I’ve got more room than I can use. A full basement of 2400 square feet we can put cots in and an acre of land to park RVs.”
Danielle Fairbank in East Tennessee is already housing two families in her home. “My heart broke for those having to leave everything they know behind,” she said. “I saw a need, had the means to help by letting one family stay in our camper and letting another family stay in my dad’s RV in our yard.”
“Some may pray, some may volunteer to deliver meals, some may donate items or money, clean up the devastation,” she said. “But what I was blessed to be able to do was take in two precious families and love them like my own.”
Fairbank is currently housing one family of four and another family of three, plus their dog. She was connected with them through the work of Jennifer Stella, director of United Hope of East TN, a community charity group.
Stella said she’d been inundated with requests for shelter since Tuesday.
“We are busy screening, matching, and placing evacuee families and their pets with nowhere to go with host families in Tennessee and Georgia,” Stella said. “We are doing our part as the Volunteer State to help these families be safe during this horrible event.”
Other organizations mobilized to help as well.
Airbnb updated its disaster relief page to include both hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in late August, and Hurricane Irma. But within minutes, the free accommodation on offer had been booked.
“We are hopeful that our host community will be able to help make the evacuation process easier for residents and their families,” said Kim Rubey, Airbnb’s global director of social good. “Our thoughts are with everyone who might be impacted by the storm, and we thank the dedicated government and emergency response personnel who are keeping our communities safe.”
Romina Ruiz, who evacuated from Miami for Atlanta Thursday morning, praised the people offering their homes. “People on Airbnb have been incredible,” she said. “So kind, so flexible and understanding, opening up their homes, letting you bring pets and canceling plans as well.”
Georgia’s state government set up a webpage to help people escaping Irma find lodging within the state.
And as hotels as far as Atlanta booked up, camping grounds and stadiums started opening their doors.
The Talladega Superspeedway, part of NASCAR’s track, opened its camping facilities free of charge Thursday. The grounds include a hot shower and restroom facilities, as well as water hookups on gravel and grassy areas.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned citizens not to take a chance and to expect additional evacuations.