Hundreds of evacuees from Florida and dozens of their pets have spent the last few nights in the Baldwin County Coliseum. The facility was turned into an American Red Cross shelter late last week to help those trying to escape Hurricane Irma’s path.
The coliseum was built to withstand winds from a category five hurricane and serve as a storm shelter. While it’s never been put to the wind test, for the first time, it’s spent the last few days as an active shelter. Hundreds of folks fleeing Florida found their way there beginning Friday, September 8, 2017, but when they left home none knew it would be where they would end up.
“As I was driving through, I had already been on the road for over 10 hours and I was so tired and I saw signs on the street, on I-10 talking about the shelter. It was…well, I would be in my car if it wasn’t for them,” said Eric Reinholt who left Clearwater, FL.
“It’s just a blessing that we got here and there’s no words that can say to thank these people, you know,” said Jesse Andrade from Ft. Myers, FL. “They’re helping us with the kids so much and the food and stuff. It’s just so much.”
As a Red Cross shelter, the coliseum can accommodate 450 people. As of Monday morning, September 11, 2017, 435 had turned it into their temporary home. More than two dozen Red Cross volunteers split 12 hour shifts to take care of the evacuees. Aside from providing food and shelter, they’re also meeting another big need.
“We have nurses, Red Cross nurses taking care of medical needs and we have mental health counselors who are trained to deal with folks like that,” explained Executive Director of the South Alabama American Red Cross chapter, Mike Brown. “That’s one of the amazing things to me because I’m no good at that, but I see our volunteers hugging these folks, sitting down and talking to them and really, just listening to them.”
While hundreds took refuge in the coliseum, many of them brought their pets with them. One gentleman in particular brought 17 dogs. Bill Stickley had to get out, but wasn’t going to leave his pets behind so he loaded his truck in Haines City, Florida and found himself in Robertsdale.
“I packed them, stuffed them and hid them in every compartment I could find. People were videoing, taking pictures. I’ll be on Facebook. I’ll be all over the place,” Stickley said.
The one place Stickley and everyone else here wants to be is home and just hope they find it as they left it.
Because of their donations, the Red Cross credits Baldwin and Mobile county citizens for making sure evacuees had everything they needed while there. Officials plan on closing the shelter at some point Tuesday, September 12, 2017.
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