Originally created 09/15/99

Evacuees bring stories with them



People fleeing their coastal homes stopped Tuesday at the Georgia Welcome Center along Interstate 20 but found themselves unable to escape Hurricane Floyd's grasp.

A crowd anchored itself around the center's big-screen television most of the afternoon. Faces filled with despair as the meteorologist on the Weather Channel announced: "This won't go away until it reaches landfall."

"If it goes the way he's saying, it's headed for our home. We'll be praying all night," said Barbara Mowry as she and her husband, Gene, watched. The retired couple had moved to Beaufort, S.C., two years ago from New York. They stayed with friends in Grovetown on Tuesday.

"We've never experienced anything like this; it's a little scary," Mrs. Mowry said.

Several motorists expected to return home later this week to nothing but debris-filled yards.

"The worst part is thinking about your home before it hits and thinking about it while you're away and what you will come back to," said Lou Demetriades.

Mr. Demetriades, his wife, children and grandchildren were headed to Spartanburg, S.C., from their homes in Palm Coast, Fla.

"I've been through a couple of strong ones but this is too strong to stay," he said. "We fully expect our home to be gone when we return. But none of that matters as long as you've got the Lord."

Audrey and Walter Mattingley have experienced other hurricanes. The Summerville, S.C., couple -- natives of Louisiana -- have been through Hurricanes Hugo in 1989, Camille in 1969, Betsy in 1965 and Audrey in 1957.

"We're not running because of what anyone said; we're running from past experiences," Mrs. Mattingley said. The couple and their two dachshunds were heading to his daughter's home in Atlanta.

"The aftermath is the worst part," Mrs. Mattingley said. "The loss of power, no water. It was about two weeks before we had something warm to eat after Hugo. You can take the way the sky lights up with purple flashes and water pouring from the sky, but the aftermath ... the dead animals, it's just not worth it."

The Mattingleys, like many from South Carolina and Savannah, traveled through frequent 15-mph traffic as they made their way toward Augusta and surrounding cities.

Bill Crymes of Charleston, S.C., was looking for a hotel that would take him, his dogs and cats.

"I got off from work last night, packed and just started driving," Mr. Crymes said. "They said to go at least as far as Augusta. I'm concerned, though, because I left my house and my youngest son back there."

Mr. Crymes' 18-year-old son said he wanted to wait out the storm.

"I'm hoping my other children can talk some sense into him," Mr. Crymes said.

Mr. Crymes, 61, would have to travel much further than Augusta to find a hotel, according to local managers. Evacuees started reserving rooms Monday night in preparation for the storm. Hotels throughout Augusta are booked.

David Jeng, manager of The West Bank Inn, posted a "no vacancy sign" on his door at about 2 p.m.

"People are still calling," Mr. Jeng said. "We are trying to help them find other motels in the area."

Around the corner from The West Bank Inn, Savannah resident Jay Purvis waited as Jack Patel, manager of Knights Inn, called other hotels to try to find him a room.

"I've called as far away as Madison, and they don't have anything," Mr. Patel said. "We've denied more than 400 calls since last night, and people are still calling and stopping by. It hasn't ever been this busy, not even during Master's."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.