Florida evacuees escape here

Published 3:35 am Saturday, October 8, 2016

Tom and Kathy Healy drove 365 miles from St. Augustine, Fla., to escape Hurricane Matthew.

Tom and Kathy Healy sought refuge at a local hotel.  Josh Dutton/Star-News

Tom and Kathy Healy sought refuge at a local hotel.
Josh Dutton/Star-News

“We don’t know how long we are going to be here,” Tom said Friday afternoon. “Right now, St. Augustine is getting hit pretty hard. We are just happy to be safely out of there.”

St. Augustine was among the hardest-hit areas on the Florida coast Friday.

Local media reported that around half of the city’s population chose not to evacuate ahead of Matthew.

Hotel room vacancies in Covington County were basically non-existent Friday afternoon and only a few rooms could be available today, but local hotel operators said that was all dependent upon the outcome of Hurricane Matthew.

Heather Craine, front desk clerk at the Best Western, said that the facility was totally booked Thursday night and had one or two open for emergencies.

“So far they are staying through Saturday,” she said. “We don’t know how long they could stay after that.”

Craine said the majority of them have evacuated Florida.

The hotel’s capacity is 39

At the Days Inn, Front Desk Clerk Alex Douglas said they had two rooms left and that most of their guests were staying through Saturday.

“We have 42 rooms,” she said.

The Econo Lodge had filled all of its 56 rooms Friday and Owner V.K. Patel said that he that a lot of guests were scheduled to check out on Saturday.

“But some people aren’t sure,” he said. “It’s all depending on what happens.”

Patel said that people have come in from Jacksonville, Cocoa Beach and St. Augustine.

“A lot of people have brought their animals,” he said. “I have like 50 dogs here.”

Kim Jenkins, manager of Holiday Inn Express, said her facility was filled to capacity with evacuees from Florida and South Carolina, beginning Thursday night. Jenkins lifted the facility’s “no pet” policy to aid those fleeing storms.

Quality Inn is seeing the same, with all of its 46 rooms booked.

“We were booked (Thursday) night and Friday night and right now we have some open on Saturday,” said Jessica Fish, front desk clerk. “But people may stay another night.”

Even in Opp, the Best Western Opp Inn has filled its 43 rooms.

“We are booked up on Friday, but have a few rooms left for (today),” said Neil Patel, owner. Like others, Patel said that was definitely up to what happened with Matthew.

Late Friday night, the storm was approaching the South Carolina coast, having caused flooding all along Florida’s eastern seaboard. The storm claimed the lives of at least four people in Florida.