Originally created 09/16/99

Refugees tell tales of evacuation

On Wednesday, Mayor Bob Young made a plea to Augustans to open their homes to some of the 2,800 evacuees who had settled into the city's shelters. We visited with some of the people who were waiting to see what Hurricane Floyd would do next. Here are some of their stories:

The Wilbys

Though they have seven children -- ages 15 to 2 -- the Wilby family didn't think twice about taking in a family of 11 stranded in Augusta because of the hurricane.

"We have a big house and lots of beds so we were glad to be of help," Sarah Wilby said. "Someday I may need help, so when we got a call from the (Alleluia) Community, we were glad to do it."

The Wilbys are one of several families in the religious community who have taken in hundreds of strangers from Savannah, Charleston and other coastal areas.

The Alleluia Community also opened its school gymnasium and parking lots to strangers. They fed them and provided activities.

At dinnertime, Mrs. Wilby cooked a big pot of spaghetti.

Craig Johnson, 15, expressed appreciation from his family.

"It's really good that we got to stay here," Craig said. "We left Savannah at 1 p.m yesterday and tried to find a hotel, then a lady at Shoney's told us about the Community, but we couldn't find it. We drove around for hours."

They arrived at 2110 Peach Orchard Road at 4 a.m. Wednesday.

"It's scary that a storm can just come in whenever it wants and make you have to leave and tear up businesses," Craig said.

Maurice Williams and Ronnie White

Maurice Williams and Ronnie White, two 20-year-old Savannah residents, talked between themselves Wednesday as they checked the newspaper for the location of the storm, trying to decide whether they will be able to go home today.

"All of our family members are scattered," Mr. Williams said as the two waited at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. "Vidalia, Atlanta, Macon. I wanted to stay and fight it out."

The two found a hotel room off Gordon Highway when they arrived in Augusta on Tuesday, but the accommodations were less than what they expected.

"There were grasshoppers in the room," Mr. White said. "And when I called to tell the person about it, he said, `kill them.' There was an odor in the room; the carpet was stained; there were spider webs all over the place and white stuff in the sink -- and they wanted $70. Our cheapest hotels in Savannah are better than that."

The two said shelter at the civic center was much better.

Bessie Young

Bessie Young wasn't intimidated by Hurricane Floyd.

Instead, the 71-year-old school bus driver was set in motion after a Chatham County sheriff's deputy delivered a flyer to her home saying that people in "low-lying, flood-prone" areas would have to evacuate.

On Monday, the county told employees that school buses and drivers may be needed to help evacuate the storm-threatened areas -- which was all the prompting Ms. Young needed to go door-to-door in her neighborhood, rounding up the 64 passengers she drove into Augusta on Tuesday night.

"I went to their homes and told them to pack what they could and I'd take them out," she said, adding that her passengers' ages ranged from 1 month to 80 years.

She said when the bus left -- leading a caravan of 25 vehicles behind it -- the group didn't know whether they were going to Augusta or Dublin, Ga.

Six police cars escorted to caravan Ms. Young led to the Belle Terrace Community Center in south Richmond County.

Harold Hill

Slapping his power cards on the table, Harold Hill seemed focused only on winning his Spades card game and intimidating his competitors.

"Don't come over here if you don't want to get chopped up," the Savannah resident said. "A bluff will only take you so far."

The card game helped keep Mr. Hill's mind off more serious concerns.

Mr. Hill was one of hundreds who sought lodging at the Belle Terrace Community Center-turned-temporary shelter.

The eight-hour drive that landed him in Augusta left him fatigued.

But Mr. Hill, 25-year Savannah resident and longshoreman, said he knows that Hurricane Floyd hit the docks where he is employed and that may mean he will be jobless once he returns.

"If the machinery got damaged, it's going to be a while before I go back to work."

Mr. Hill sat at the card table with new friends and competitors -- other men whose hometowns were hit by the storm -- who said they were equally as concerned about loved ones who refused to evacuate property and leave their jobs.

"I just want to get back to my paycheck I got coming," Mr. Hill said. "Because I don't know ... the docks might be closed."

Lorraine Holmes

As reading, writing and arithmetic went on as usual at Hephzibah High School on Wednesday, a large crowd of coastal evacuees took refuge in the school gymnasium.

Part of the gym floor was covered with gray plastic tarp as children hula-hooped in the middle of the floor and others played board games or got their hair braided by adults.

Lorraine Holmes, her sister, nieces and nephew, -- all of Charleston -- bragged about how well they have been treated by Augustans.

Mrs. Holmes' nephew, James Diggs, 15, turned down an offer to sit in on a class at Hephzibah High.

"He said he wants the storm to blow down his school," his mother, Darlene Diggs, said.

The Boulwares

John Boulware sent his wife and 10-year-old daughter to Atlanta on Tuesday as he and his 21-year-old son Jamaal stayed in Savannah to secure their home.

They placed their custom-made sofa on 4-feet high speakers and moved other belonging to higher ground.

They live about 20 miles from the ocean and stand to lose thousands of dollars worth of belongings -- including a 1971 Classic Oldsmobile.

"Don't be surprised when we go back," the elder Mr. Boulware warned his son. "I expect the water to be halfway up the stairs. When we get back, we'll just back the truck up to the house and move."

It took the men nine hours to get to Augusta, when the drive is usually about 2 1/2 hours. They took shelter Wednesday at the Augusta Richmond-County Civic Center.

"I saw Hurricane Hugo," John Boulware said. "Homes were blown off foundations, people were just wandering in the street not knowing what to do and if this is four-times worse, I wasn't staying in Savannah."

Jim Woodward

After learning that more than 2 million evacuees would be fleeing Hurricane Floyd, Jim Woodward decided to make use of his extra bedrooms.

"If I was in their situation, I would hope someone would do the same for me," Mr. Woodward said. "I feel sorry for them."

Mr. Woodward, a retired school teacher from Maryland who lives alone, called the Aiken Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning to notify them that he had three spare bedrooms to offer anyone who needed a place to stay.

Because virtually every hotel room from the Aiken-Augusta area north to Tennessee was booked, he had some takers.

"I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't found Mr. Woodward," said Xena Blair, who fled Beaufort with her husband, Bill. "We were very lucky."

The Blairs headed to Aiken only to find out when they arrived that there wasn't a hotel room in sight. In desperation, they went to the Chamber of Commerce for help.

"They were extremely nice and directed us to Mr. Woodward's doorstep," Mrs. Blair said. "We're just happy to be safe."

Tony and Cathy Cone

Tony and Cathy Cone and their three golden retrievers evacuated Hinesville on Tuesday to stay with their daughter Heather and her husband, Frank Mitchell, who live in Hardy Pointe subdivision in Columbia County.

"I tell you what, I don't ever want to make another trip like that again," Mr. Cone said, speaking of the bumper-to-bumper traffic that moved along at 35 to 45 mph, tacking another hour onto the trip.

Mr. Cone drove their truck with the three dogs -- Sandy and King loaded in kennels in the back and his favorite, Bud, in the cab with him -- while Mrs. Cone drove the family's car. Hers was loaded with photo albums, while the truck was loaded with tools, chainsaws, things they might need for repairs should the hurricane hit the Hinesville area.

"The rest of it we left there," Mr. Cone said. "If it blows away, it just blows away. Some things you can replace, other things you can't."

Erika Fairchild

For Erika Fairchild of Jacksonville, Hurricane Floyd was a double whammy.

"I left Jacksonville when we got the warning and went to Charleston to stay with my mom," she said. "Then we had to leave there."

They slept in their cars in the Wal-Mart parking lot on Bobby Jones Expressway on Tuesday night and weren't sure what Wednesday and today held.

"We're arguing about what to do next," she said. "I wanna go home."

-- Compiled by Staff Writers Clarissa Walker, Faith Johnson, Jason Smith, Melissa Hall and Katie Throne.


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