Hundreds take refuge in Florence shelters
FLORENCE, S.C. – More than 670 people have sought refuge in Florence County’s five designated evacuation shelters, and that number was expected to rise through the weekend as Hurricane Florence made landfall and moved toward the Pee Dee.
Officials opened South Florence High School, Wilson High School, Timmonsville High School, Hannah-Pamplico High School and Lake City High School as shelters for those looking to evade the storm in Florence County.
Dori Baumwart, American Red Cross shelter manager for South Florence, said the shelter was housing more than 150 people, and she expected that number to rise.
“This is an incredible shelter,” Baumwart said. “It quickly rose. The demographic is from children all the way through older people. It’s incredibly important to seek shelter. If we have everyone together, we can work as a group, and we can keep everyone safe together. We have the benefit of having the police department and EMS services right here, so we’re able to provide that safety.”
At Wilson High School, Red Cross volunteer Florence Uchendu said the shelter was housing more than 120 people.
“Everyone has a place to lie down and store their stuff, as well as a generator,” Uchendu said. “More people will come as the weather starts to change. We have people from all over and families of many different sizes.”
Dixie Walker, another Red Cross volunteer, said the shelter will continue to provide meals and services to its habitants throughout the storm.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority,” Walker said. “We’ve got several homeless people, and they’re out there in the wind and the rain. We want to make sure that everyone is safe.”
Evacuees tell their stories
Ramona Stancil, a Pee Dee native, said that the damage from Hurricane Matthew two years ago led to her and her family seeking shelter this time around.
“We were without power for four days with no one to talk to but my children,” Stancil said. “This time, I said I’m going to socialize. I feel more comfortable.”
Stancil said she arrived at the Wilson shelter a little after midnight Friday and has enjoyed her time so far.
“They’ve been wonderful. Everything has been very nice,” Stancil said. “I hope for the least damage as possible. I hope everyone will be smart. What’s the point of risking losing your life for materialistic things? It’s just not worth it.”
Dora Smith said she arrived at Wilson High School on Wednesday night after being evacuated from her Georgetown home.
“My family needed electricity, and not many other shelters had backup generators that we could find that had room,” Smith said. “So, that is what kind of led to us coming to Florence. They’re expecting major flooding and heavy winds, so we needed to get out in order to be safe.”
Also at the Wilson shelter was Diana Daniels with her mother, Elizabeth, and her sister-in-law Judy. Daniels said she moved from New York down to Florence in July to help take care of her mother. She said the family made the decision to evacuate their home and head to the shelter Thursday.
“If we had been without power or suppose we had been flooded out, I would have had to call emergency services to evacuate us out,” Daniels said. “With us being here, if I need to get her to the hospital or have some kind of concern, they’ll be able to deal with that much quicker, and that was the major factor in my decision.”
“We want to try to wait it out. Once the rain comes and leaves, we’ll head back home.”
Shelters were open in other areas of the Pee Dee. In Hemingway, 105 were in the Hemingway High School shelter.
According to Vernell Dickerson-Washington, the shelter has been open since Wednesday. Most of the people in the shelter are from the Hemingway area, Washington said.
Washington said the shelter has been providing cots, blankets and food for people in the shelter, because most people don’t know what to bring. Food has been provided by organizations such as the Salvation Army.
Lorine Price, a Hemingway resident, decided to go to the shelter because her home is surrounded by trees. She said she heard on the news that this hurricane could be worse than Hugo.
“I was afraid of the trees falling on my house, and rather than take the chance, I’d rather be here,” Price said. “I feel more safe here rather than at home.”
Price lives alone but has family in Nesmith who traveled out of the area to get away from the storm. A few of Price’s friends from Nesmith came to the shelter as well.
Price said she wasn’t worried when packing to go to the shelter, because she was just thankful to have a safe place to stay during the hurricane.
“It is just a blessing to have a place to come,” Price said. “It is just a blessing for a facility to open up to take you in.”
Mooresville resident Leroy Copeland said he has sat through multiple storms at his home over the years, but he didn’t want to risk something happening at his home when he could be in a sturdy shelter.
“I advise anyone who doesn’t have steady shelter to do the same that I did, because this is nothing to play with,” Copeland said.
Copeland was the first person to come to the shelter, because he said he wanted to make sure he was safe before the storm came.
“It’s just tremendous that they can do this for a lot of people in the community and make it work,” Copeland said.
Copeland came to the shelter with his important documents and some necessities but didn’t bring a lot of extra items.
“When I left, everything was in order, and when I return, I hope to God that everything will still be in order,” Copeland said.