When the next storm of the century strikes the eastern seaboard, Augusta will know what to expect.
As Hurricane Floyd approached the Carolina coasts, thousands of evacuees swarmed into Augusta, surpassing all the worst-case scenarios that city officials used to prepare for such events.
"This is not really something we planned for in our evacuation plans for the coast," Augusta Mayor Bob Young said at a news conference Wednesday. "There has never been an evacuation to Augusta of this magnitude.
"To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement."
The American Red Cross had committed to opening at least three shelters in Augusta if needed. The city more than tripled that number.
Augusta's 10 shelters housed about 2,800 evacuees Wednesday evening. City officials said they expected even more people to stream into Augusta through the night.
"We expect people are going to start looking for a dry place," Mr. Young said as night fell. "We expect that number to increase significantly.
"I feel confident we're going to be getting more people, but how many more I don't know."
Only three shelters had any space remaining for evacuees late Wednesday. Hephzibah High School and Willis Foreman Elementary School had room for about 60 people. Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, which housed about 700 people, had room for about 1,300 more, said David Dlugolenski, director of the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.
The following shelters were full: Advent Lutheran Church, Belle Terrace Community Center, Trinity-on-the-Hill United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, and Warren Road and May Park community centers.
Hurricane Floyd's price tag for local taxpayers might be substantial.
Richmond County sheriff's deputies, firefighters and parks and recreation employees have racked up hours of overtime escorting people to shelters and overseeing those facilities, Mr. Young said.
At least one deputy is stationed at each shelter and several deputies are at the civic center, Mr. Young said.
There is no guarantee that state or federal agencies will reimburse Augusta for the cost of housing evacuees, Mr. Dlugolenski said. But the mayor said making sure people were safe was more important than crunching numbers.
"We're not concerned about the price tag right now," he said.
To help ease the crunch, city officials are asking local residents with extra rooms to take in refugees from the hurricane. Volunteers also are needed to staff the shelters, Mr. Young said.
Donations of bedding 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."
To volunteer at a local shelter, contact the Augusta-Richmond County Emergency Management Agency at (706) 821-1155.
REACHBrandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.