Amid Irma, hospitality

Augusta area responded superbly to displaced guests

MICHAEL HOLAHAN/FILE American Red Cross Regional Program Manager Patty Mayer and volunteer Kris Fisher answer the phones during a Red Cross telethon to help with Hurricane Harvey relief at the Augusta Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. Augusta-area residents superbly anticipated the needs of people arriving in town fleeing Hurricane Irma.

So many of us want Augusta to be a city we can be proud of. There are many reasons to be.

 

We can add one more reason to the growing list: Augusta-area residents’ superb, selfless performance amid the wave of Florida and south Georgia residents fleeing Hurricane Irma more than a week ago.

When Hurricane Matthew forced the evacuation of coastal Georgia at about this time last year, Augusta had only a few hours’ notice to mobilize assistance for the thousands who arrived in the city. Setting up enough shelters and cots posed a problem.

But the slower approach of Irma – folks were tracking it a week before it arrived – gave emergency officials here at least a day to prepare, and that made all the difference.

“(Evacuees) got here on Friday night but on Wednesday we had already put in a request for 2,000 cots. When those citizens came in, the shelters were already set up,” Chris James said. He’s Augusta’s fire chief and director of the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

Hotels across Augusta also braced for the visitors. One hotel in west Augusta stocked up on bottled water, flashlights and even additional freezers to anticipate the increased food needs of its guests.

Across the river, the Aiken Fairgrounds and the Hippodrome in North Augusta served as an evacuation center for large animals throughout the Southeast. The Hippodrome is owned by Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.

“We had more community partners step up this time,” James said. “Augusta University stepped up great, allowing nursing students and other folks to help work in the shelters. The donation center was set up early so we received plenty of resources that needed to go to the different shelters when requested.”

And in several subdivisions, neighbors could be seen helping neighbors in many ways, such as cutting up fallen limbs and trees.

It’s heartening to see – in a city whose hospitality manifests itself strongest during such meticulously planned events as the Masters Tournament – that the hospitality also can extend at the drop of a hat to guests we only suddenly expect.

 

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