Every few hours, Deb Karambelas braved the driving wind and rain brought on by Tropical Storm Irma to walk each of her six dogs.
It was a routine that Karambelas, her husband Nick and sister Sarah completed during their stay at the Home2Suites hotel in Grovetown.
“We have hunting dogs. They’re big and they can be kind of crazy sometimes, but the hotel here is very gracious,” Karambelas said.
The family evacuated from their home on Hilton Head Island, S.C., Saturday afternoon after a mandatory order from their governor due to Irma, which at the time was a hurricane. The family packed their bags and all six of their large dogs into two vehicles and headed to familiar territory in Grovetown, where they came to escape Hurricane Matthew last year.
“They accommodate very well for pets,” she said. “They are used to what they do, they understand our needs, which is awesome.”
Karambelas said they were drawn to the Grovetown area after difficulty in finding decently priced places to stay with their dogs and after a pleasant experience from locals the last time her family evacuated, the choice to return was easy.
“I was amazed at how welcoming they were with us,” Karambelas recalled of arriving at the hotel last year not knowing what to expect. “Then I had to go buy groceries. So then I went across the street to Wal-Mart and I walked in and last year they had a table as you walked in to the grocery store side with some bottled water and there were some donuts, some hand wipes, and the lady looked at me and said ‘if you’re an evacuee this is for you, take whatever you want.’”
Karambelas said it was comforting to know that people at the store understood the challenges they were facing.
“They know that we are not from here, they know that we are stressed that we are out of our element, and they’re so friendly and so willing to help us to make our situation just a little bit better so we can be not quite as stressed or panicked about not knowing because the big thing is not knowing for a lot of folks,” Karambelas said.
When evacuating, Karambelas said they made sure to have all of their necessary medications and pet records.
“When you get where you’re going, usually you are evacuating to a safe place, meaning there will be laundry facilites, you can buy clothes if you forget something to wear,” Karambelas said. “So the things you need to grab are the things that are most important to you and things that you cannot replace, but medication is at the top of the list.”
Karambelas added that bringing medication is important because people often don’t realize the issues that could arise with trying to get a prescription filled in a different state.
“You can’t just walk into CVS or any drug store and hand them a script from a state over, sometimes that does not work. And with animals, you make sure you take your pet records because people want to know that they are up to date, vaccinated and that kind of thing,” Karambelas said.
Through it all, Karambelas said she kept a positive attitude through both years of evacuating by taking into account that she has no control over Mother Nature.
“There’s not a lot you can do about mother nature, she is going to do what she is going to do. She has her own grame plan. So the best thing you can do is try to stay calm, try to stay safe and rest while you have time,” Karambelas said. “Because when you do go home, if there are damages, there’s a lot of cleanup to do, so you have to kind of stay positive that it’s going to be whatever, you have no control over that.”
During Hurricane Matthew, the family was at the hotel for eight days, and after Irma, they may be in for another stay, depending on the path of Hurricane Jose.
The family split two rooms between the three of them with two of the dogs who the family had rescued from a kennel, and the others roaming the room freely.
Karambelas is part of the Pointer Rescue Organization and in both evacuations took two foster dogs in addition to the family’s other three English Pointers and labrador retriever. Last year the family had two different foster dogs, which Karambelas dubbed “hurricane dogs,” and two new hurricane dogs this year. Both times, one of those rescues were taken under their wing just one week before having to evacuate.
But Karambelas said it is a labor of love, as the family performed multiple walking routines throughout the day, taking one dog at a time, and enjoying the company of other evacuee families.
“We have routine walking throughout the day and good conversastion in the lobby with all of the other people who are staying here and it’s a lot of fun actually,” Karambelas said.
So far, the family said they have received word from neighbors who decided to weather the storm, that their home had suffered no visible damages, however photos from Facebook friends showed what appears to be standing water at homes nearby. The family returned home Tuesday and told a reporter Wednesday that their home suffered no damage.
Before they left left Grovetown, they praised the hospitality of its residents.
“If you have to go, this is the place to go. Grovetown is awesome,” Karambelas said. “You can’t have a better place to evacuate to.”