Originally created 09/15/99

Civic Center opened to evacuees

The trail stops here for many people fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Floyd.

Almost all of Augusta's 10 shelters filled Wednesday, causing city officials to open the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center to the thousands of people evacuating the coast.

"This is not really something we planned for in our evacuation plans for the coast," said Augusta Mayor Bob Young during a press conference Wednesday morning. "There has never been an evacuation to Augusta of this magnitude.

"To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement."

About 2,300 evacuees settled in Augusta on Tuesday to wait out the storm, and Mr. Young said he expected a steady flow of people to arrive Wednesday.

To accommodate the wave of evacuees, city officials converted the civic center into a shelter at midnight Tuesday, Mr. Young said.

The center, which housed about 60 people Wednesday morning, can hold as many as 2,000, said David Dlugolenski, director of the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.

At 10:15 a.m. Wednesday, space for about 60 people still was available at Hephzibah High School and Willis Foreman Elementary School, he said.

The following shelters are full: Advent Lutheran Church; Belle Terrace Community Center; Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church; First Baptist Church; Warren Road and May Park community centers.

To help ease the crunch, city officials are asking locals with extra rooms to take in evacuees. Volunteers also are needed to staff the shelters, Mr. Young said.

Donations of bedding also are being accepted.

"Where you can, please adopt a family," Mr. Young said. "We have a critical need for housing for these people in this community."

Floyd, once headed for Hilton Head, S.C., now is projected to hit land near Wilmington, N.C., early Thursday morning. The storm's winds have weakened from 150 mph to about 130 mph.

Augusta, once expected to receive winds of 50-60 mph and 6-8 inches of rain, now is expected to have 35-mph winds and as little as 2 inches of rain. Although authorities are prepared for possible flooding in some areas, they said they don't expect the weather to wreak havoc upon the city.

"We don't feel like we're going to have a big problem," said Richmond County Fire Chief Ronald Few. "I don't anticipate us getting overwhelmed."

The storm's price tag, though, might be substantial. Sheriff's deputies, firefighters and parks-and-recreation employees are racking up hours of overtime as they escort evacuees to shelters and oversee those facilities, Mr. Young said.

"We're not concerned about the price tag right now," he said.

To make people's stays in Augusta more pleasant, several downtown attractions lowered their entry fees Wednesday to allow visitors to enjoy the city's culture.

The National Science Center's Fort Discovery and the Augusta-Richmond County Museum lowered fares to half-price or less. The Morris Museum of Art offered free admission to its visitors.

To volunteer at a local shelter, contact the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Agency at (706) 821-1155.


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