Originally created 09/16/99

Evacuation orders, airport closings leave some stranded on coast



MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Shonna Shinn flew out of Atlanta on Tuesday and landed around 1:45 p.m. at Myrtle Beach International Airport, expecting to enjoy a pleasant vacation.

Hurricane Floyd was far away -- down off the coast of Florida, she thought.

What no one at the airlines told her, she said, was that Myrtle Beach had been under governor's orders for full mandatory evacuation since noon Tuesday.

"I'm bitter," Ms. Shinn said. "It took 40 minutes to tell us they couldn't sell us a ticket back.

"There were only two telephones in that whole airport," she said. "It was six to seven deep to use that phone."

Ms. Shinn had bought a one-way ticket expecting to ride back to Cincinnati with friends later in the week. But her friends weren't at the airport to pick her up because they had already been evacuated.

She was stranded.

Wednesday morning, Ms. Shinn sat on a borrowed blanket at a Red Cross disaster shelter with 23-year-old Simone Akers, who she met at the airport.

Ms. Akers was trying to get back to her home in England.

"It was like, `OK, where do you go? What do you do?"' Ms. Akers said. "If you didn't have a ticket, you were out of luck."

Betty and Walter Mitousek from Fort Worth, Texas, are in the same boat.

Around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, an airline dropped them off at Myrtle Beach. They had no idea they were in potential disaster territory.

The Mitouseks, at the beach for a Navy reunion, went to their hotel, but the hotel was shut down and boarded up.

"We just hailed a cab, like we always would, thinking nothing was wrong," Ms. Mitousek said. "I think the flight attendants didn't tell people because they didn't want people to get hysterical."

After driving around looking for another place to stay, and finding nothing open, they took the cab back to the airport. The airline's desk was closed. No one was there. An airport security officer suggested they seek emergency shelter.

"We've never been through anything like this," said Ms. Mitousek, adding she had recently been released from the hospital after having heart problems. "So we don't know what to expect."

Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Air Lines subsidiary which serves Myrtle Beach, made every effort to accommodate stranded ticketholders before the airport closed, said Sam Watts, a vice president for the airline.

"We certainly would not have refused to sell someone a ticket if we had seats available," Mr. Watts said.

The airline issued advisories earlier this week warning of flight cancellations, and advising ticketholders of the hurricane's approach, Mr. Watts said. The airline allowed ticketholders to rebook flights if necessary, waiving flight restrictions and penalties for late cancellations, he said.

Mr. Watts said the airline planned to restart service in Myrtle Beach late Thursday, if the airport reopens. Power outages or an extension of the evacuation order could delay reopening, the executive said.

Staff Writer Brandon Haddock contributed to this article

REACHJessica Rinck at (706) 823-3225.