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Reality check | Evacuating during the travel nightmare of Hurricane Irma

599 301 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Lisa Marie Gordon of  Welaka, Florida, her husband, four children and three dogs evacuated before hurricane Irma hit. She describes their travel ordeal. 

by Lisa Marie Gordon

Knives Ship Free Delivers Direct

Soooooo let me tell y’all about Mississippi, but first let me tell you how God brought us to Mississippi. We decided to evacuate because we didn’t feel safe staying home (in Walaka) with the kids. So we loaded up our little hunting camper and vehicles with some food and supplies and kids and the fur babies and hit the road.

Lisa Marie Gordon, Irma evacuation, emergency evacuation

Lisa Marie Gordon

When we started out the roads were not that bad, the further west we got the worse and more packed the roads got. No gas, the only station we found was cash only and limited the amount. It took us approx 13 hours to drive a stretch of road that usually would take only about four hours. There were so many cars broken down along the way because they had ran out of gas and was just stuck on the side of the road. We must have passed 30 wrecks because people were being impatient so they took it upon themselves to turn the emergency lane into another lane, which caused a chain reaction of wrecks.

You couldn’t get off at the exits and try to venture into the little towns because the lines to get back on the interstate was about an hour wait just to travel up the on ramp to the interstate. And we couldn’t risk using up that much gas. People were fighting at gas stations over gas and also if you had gas cans in the back of your truck you couldn’t even think of leaving your vehicle because people were stealing other people’s full gas cans out of trucks as soon as they turned their backs.

Welaka Florida, Irma evacuation

Welaka was located right in the path of Hurricane Irma.

We finally made it to Bainbridge, Georgia from Welaka at about 18 hours in. We were lucky and found a little campground to pull into and sleep and check the status of the storm. At that point we thought we were safe.

We thought wrong, we went to sleep and early in the morning the campground host came around and said the storm shifted west and we were now in prime storm path. They evacuated the whole campground, we had about 30 minutes to pack up and get back on the road again. So we started heading west, we tried getting gas numerous times only to find out lots of Georgia was now being evacuated and they were heading west also, which caused a gas shortage there also.

So with a wish and a prayer we just kept driving, my faith in humanity was diminishing at this point because of how mean people were being. I wouldn’t even let my kids out of the car for fear of what the ones acting so crazy was liable to do. We hit a very long stretch of road with no service so that’s where our GPS quit and we were lost somewhere in Alabama on back roads and didn’t know where to go.

We finally came across a gas station literally every in the middle of nowhere. We stopped and filled up, cash only, but we got some. We sat there for a few minutes, with an actual map we picked up in the little store trying to plot a course of action. At this point, a car pulled up and a man got out and told us we needed to get on our way. (Now this part I’m adding not to cause commotion, but to show how things got turned around on us real quick).

We were in a predominantly black neighborhood and the man told us they didn’t take kindly to white folks around there trying to buy up all their gas. He was actually being nice warning us, but he said the next person to stop may not be so nice and may leave us in a bad way. I’ve never seen color and to have it turned around on me like that opened my eyes to how people feel not welcome in certain areas. So we got out of there quick.

Headed west again, about 10 hours into our drive this day, we finally got into an area with cell service and I started searching hotels and campgrounds, no one could take us, we called over 30 places and literally every place was full. We pulled over again to find the closest Wal-Mart, we had decided to just sleep in a parking lot and take shifts taking watch. Because the storm was literally hours behind us the whole way, we were scared to death we were going to be trapped in a parking lot in the middle of a hurricane. At this point we were on the Alabama- Mississippi border, out of nowhere a man pulls up and steps out of the car, he was in a Air Force uniform and asked if we needed help.

I told him we were trying to find somewhere to stay, he said give me a few minutes. He made some calls and within a matter of minutes we had directions to a campground taking evacuees in Mississippi. I really think he was an angel. He gave us directions and we were on our way again. About an hour later we pulled into this campground.  (Lisa: I am editing this post to add the campground. The name is Archusa Creek Water Park  (Quitman, Mississippi) and Doug, the man who looks over the place, is truly an angel!)

As soon as we pulled in, we and about 100 other evacuees were greeted by the kindest people I have ever met. Many churches around the town heard there were evacuees and when I say evacuees, there are people here who used every bit of money they had to just get here. Their babies were out of formula, diapers, their kids were cold and starving (it’s about 55 degrees with the wind here) they only had the clothes on their backs and the vehicles they came in.

We were all starving because we we let the kids eat up our snacks on they way up. Well, they just welcomed us with open arms. They had a hot meal ready for all evacuees from Florida. They are not charging us to stay here and these people up here have all bonded together and made us Florida folks feel right at home. They brought clothes, blankets, food, water, diapers, formula, shoes and much more. They even brought dog food for the fur babies.

Since we got here Sunday, we have been fed a hot breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday. Different organizations and churches are here every single day bringing us supplies, food, water, whatever we need. They filled all our coolers with ice and gave us all grocery store and Walmart gift cards to go out and get the things we need. They filled everyone’s gas tank and made sure we are up to date on road closures and such. They even brought their church service to us. All of us evacuees here sat around with praise and worship and a hot meal. Not a dry eye in the place.

They have brought toys for all the kids and provided everyone here with soaps and shampoos and wash clothes and all the essentials that none of us thought to bring, being limited on space and also being in such a hurry to leave. They provided ones that only showed up in their cars, tents to sleep in. The county came out and provided everyone with enough quarters and laundry soap to do all of our laundry at the campground laundry mat. (You don’t even know how much a Godsend clean clothes was at this point) They brought their children out to play with ours and help all the kids here keep their minds off of the chaos. They brought a ice cream truck in and gave all the kids ice cream. These people are angels! We have never felt so welcomed. We have never felt so safe.

I can’t even tell you how humbled I am by the outpouring of love. These people don’t know us from Adam and took us all in just like we were close family. I honestly believe God knew all of us here were in trouble and needed help. I feel in my heart that all of these folks are angels. I really feel like God knew we needed them and he sent his finest disciples. I will never be able to repay everything they did for us but I can tell you this, I will never stop paying it forward. I will never forget these people because I will always consider them my faith family and brothers and sisters of God.

Mississippi folks are as fine as they come and they are a wonderful example for the rest of the world. They really proved what bonding together can do. And for anyone that has doubts about your faith, come to Mississippi – they will show you God is Alive and he will protect you no matter what as long as you keep the faith. (Editor’s note: No surprises here. Mississippians are among the most generous, kind people I’ve ever run across, and I’ve lived all over the country.)

To my new Mississippi family, Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am humbled and will never forget what you have done for all of us evacuees.

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