Hurricane Florence’s deluge of 30-inch rains, flash floods, and tree-snapping winds have caused an order of evacuation for nearly 2 million people.
Safe harbor can be hard to find for those without family in nearby states and for people who can’t cover the cost of an indefinite hotel stay. For those Florence evacuees, Georgia State Parks and the National Forests in Florida have stepped in to provide some relief.
“We welcome all evacuees and their pets, regardless of ability to pay,” said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division. “Their safety and comfort is our main concern, and we understand that pets are family members too.” Even the equestrians can safely stable their horses within some parks.
Thousands of Florence Evacuees Seek Refuge in Georgia and Florida Parks
Georgia’s Southern Hospitality to Hurricane Florence Evacuees
Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday, Sept. 14 and has caused at least 32 deaths and more than half a million power outages in businesses and homes. Authorities are urging people in mandatory evacuation shelters to abide by the order, rather than face the life-threatening flood levels.
Georgia State Parks are welcoming people displaced by the storm and their pets to shelter at campsites and cottages. On Sept. 14, the parks hosted 2,600 evacuees. After the weekend, 1,700 evacuees remain in the campsites, cabins, yurts, and group shelters.
There’s also a no-fee option of “dry camping” in overflow areas. While the vast majority of evacuee campers opt for regular campsites, about 40 people are dry camping. Whatever the financial situation, the park system has promised a place to stay for anyone fleeing the hurricane.
Trevor Bullard is the park manager of Mistletoe State Park, one of the most popular Georgia State Parks that Florence evacuees are turning to for shelter. Its high occupancy makes sense considering its close proximity to I-20 and South Carolina’s state line. Mistletoe State Park, A.H. Stephens State Park, and Crooked River State Park campgrounds have the highest rate of evacuee occupancy.
Bullard has found that camping can be a comforting environment for the evacuees. “Their [camping] equipment is like home away from home, so I am sure it’s less stressful than staying in a hotel. We also have cabins which offer much more room than a hotel and are fully furnished.”
Campers are enjoying themselves by hiking trails, swimming at the beach, and fishing while they wait out the storm, Bullard said.
But the hurricane will likely continue to push Florence evacuees across state lines. The storm’s downpour has created devastating river flooding in the Carolinas, and it continues to progress up the East Coast. Other Georgia State Parks may need to increase their evacuee intake in the coming days.
With all the chaos and uncertainty happening in the hometowns of evacuees, Georgia State Parks hopes to provide some solace.
“This is an extremely stressful time for those impacted by Hurricane Florence, so we hope to make their stay as pleasant as possible,” Hatcher said.
Sheltered in Florida National Forests
For those traveling further south, the National Forests in Florida are also eager to support Hurricane Florence evacuees. Apalachicola, Ocola, and Osceola Forests have waived campground fees as well as the 14-day stay limitation for anyone displaced by the hurricane.
“Our goal is to provide clean and safe facilities for those seeking shelter on national forest lands,” said Forest Supervisor Kelly Russell.
Storm migrants are asked to call ahead to campgrounds to make sure of availability, and to identify themselves as storm evacuees so any fees can be waived.
- Evacuees can find an updated list of park locations and availability from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
- Osceola National Forest (Jacksonville area): (386) 752-2577
- Ocala National Forest (Orlando area): (352) 625-2520 or (352) 669-3153
- Apalachicola National Forest (Tallahassee area): (850) 926-3561 or (850) 643-2282