Last year, the Augusta area relished the opportunity to shelter Hurricane Matthew’s coastal refugees.
We will do so again with Hurricane Irma in the coming days – although while being buffeted ourselves by what could still be a Category 1 hurricane.
The apparent Mother of All Atlantic Hurricanes prompted self-evacuations, then mandatory evacuations from Florida to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts late this week – and was on track to follow the evacuees here by late Monday into Tuesday.
Armed with the live-fire experience of Matthew last October, city officials and nonprofits here have been gearing up to host thousands of evacuees. Augusta has a formal arrangement to shelter some 3,000 Savannah-area evacuees, and will no doubt be hosting refugees from up and down the coast in 10 or more shelters, overstuffed hotels and, in many cases, private homes.
Irma is bigger and badder, and likely will push many more residents inland. Another big difference is that, this time, officials know Augusta needs help hosting – and other locales inland will be stepping in to provide it.
If flooding or other effects call for it, we may even be sheltering our own.
As government officials scurried to prepare late this week, so did the American Red Cross of Augusta – which expected to have 3,000 cots and “comfort kits” ready for evacuees, as well as a handful of shelter managers, but was already asking the national Red Cross for more cots and kits heading into the weekend.
In some ways, they were already handing out comfort on Thursday. If you didn’t, you should’ve seen the quiet confidence in Fire Chief Chris James, who also heads Emergency Management Services, and local Red Cross Executive Director Susan Everitt, as they answered media questions.
That’s not to say “we got this.” This is a 700-mile, 180-mph leviathan approaching, a certifiable crisis wherever it makes landfall. Crises create chaos. Not everything will go smoothly. Even as our coastal neighbors pack shelters here, we’ve got to give local officials a little elbow room. They’ll be making the best of a very bad situation.
For the rest of us to do that, and to be of the utmost help to evacuees, we’ve got to be prepared. That’s probably the best thing we can do for others, is to just prepare ourselves. Then we can reach out.
Everitt cautioned against going overboard and inundating shelters with donations; that can cause its own upheaval. Rather, she said, contribute to the charity of your choice.
On the heels of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and the shifting of some area resources down there in recent weeks, Everitt said, “Every dollar counts. It counts even double this week.”
She also suggested visiting www.redcross.org/volunteer, where you can apply and be trained to help out – even specifically for Irma relief.
Beyond that, she said, prayers and patience will be as needed as beds and roofs.
Asked how many evacuees we could expect, James simply said, “Our area will be very populated over the next week.”
Even staring such a crisis in the face, Everitt smiled and said, “This is the last thing we want to have – back-to-back significant disasters. But (the Red Cross’) mission in life is to alleviate suffering in the face of emergencies.”
More and more, it’s Augusta’s mission too.