Originally created 09/16/99

Area opens to Floyd evacuees



Thousands of Hurricane Floyd evacuees streamed into the Augusta area Wednesday seeking shelter -- in some cases, just a place to park their vehicles -- after completing road trips from Southeastern cities that took three times longer than they ordinarily would.

Richmond County sheriff's deputies met travelers who poured into the city on Interstate 20, U.S. Highway 25 and Sand Bar Ferry Road overnight Tuesday. Deputies led caravans to the nine American Red Cross shelters set up around the city to feed and provide evacuees with lodging and medical attention, said Jana Hill, Red Cross spokeswoman in Augusta.

For some, Augusta wasn't their destination when they left home, but fatigue and frustration mixed with hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic -- sometimes as slow as 5 mph -- beat out plans to meet relatives in Atlanta and other cities farther north and inland.

By midday Wednesday, Red Cross shelters housed 2,800 evacuees primarily from Savannah and Charleston, S.C. And Augusta's 6,000 hotel and motel rooms, filled by 10 a.m. Tuesday, had no vacancies to offer the city's guests.

Thousands sought lodging with family and friends in the area. Some simply chose to sleep in their vehicles. County and private facilities were transformed in a matter of hours into makeshift lodging to accommodate travelers arriving in droves by highway.

On May Park Community Center's indoor basketball court, cots and blue mats held sleeping adults and children instead of the center's usual Wednesday afternoon open-play men's basketball game.

Plastic containers carrying a week's worth of a family's clothes were piled next to blankets, pillows, toys and action figures that lined the walls of a playroom at the Belle Terrace Community Center.

Seeming unfettered by the exodus and hours of travel, children played with Hula Hoops and adults played card games. Music helped pass the time for many awaiting word of when evacuation orders would be lifted in their communities.

At the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20, staff members set up tables for sandwiches, salads and beverages donated by strangers, said Margie Chamberlain, information specialist for the center.

"It's just incredible," Ms. Chamberlain said. "There's no way we can thank everybody."

People have been stranded at the center without any hope of finding hotel rooms locally. Many evacuees could not go to shelters because they are traveling with pets, Ms. Chamberlain said.

Several said they left their dogs behind to make room in cars for family members. Others untied their pets and prayed they would be able to find shelter on their own.

Staff Writers Faith Johnson and Sandy Hodson contributed to this article.

REACHClarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.