Hurricane Florence evacuees are seeking refuge in Savannah

Hurricane Florence evacuees are seeking refuge in Savannah

Savannah welcomes Hurricane Florence evacuees

Local musician Eddie Moore played music for Hurricane Florence evacuees on River Street. (Caitlyn Penter WTGS)

Spring Hill Suites in downtown Savannah said they have seen a $20,000 increase in revenue in just three days. They said after the mandatory evacuations were issued, bookings went up.

Comfort Suites said the amount of evacuees that have booked rooms this weekend has made up for the loss of vacationers earlier in the week.

We have pets so theyve been very, very nice, very accommodating, everyone in the hotel has been super nice, said one woman.

Its nice, windy, cool, a little hot but ya know, were good right now, said one Charleston man.

One hotel in Savannah, the Cotton Sail hotel, said they have actually seen their reservations go down by 60 percent because of the storm. Hotel officials hope business picks up in the coming days.

As a light breeze blew over River Street Thursday morning the crowds were sparse, but businesses along the river were already feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence as evacuees from North and South Carolina fled to the Hostess City.

“We’ve definitely seen more people than this time last year,” said David Feuger, regional manager of River Street Sweets.

Because Hurricane Irma forced some to evacuate Savannah last September, the companys numbers arent comparable, but looking at the numbers from 2016 Feuger said they’re already tracking a little ahead.

“We’re optimistic the weekend will be good, too,” he said, adding that the majority of evacuees he’s spoken to were from North Carolina as well as the Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet, S.C., areas.

“The ones that we’re seeing are mostly North Carolina, I think they (evacuated) quicker,” he said.

Stocking up on pralines and bear claws, Carol Lawler and Beth Conant left their homes in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and headed for Savannah on Tuesday night to try and escape Florence.

“In the past we’ve evacuated to Raleigh, we’ve evacuated to Greenville twice, but you have to keep track of the hurricane and the trick is getting your hotel in time,” Conant said.

This time they had little trouble booking a hotel room and chose to take back roads to bypass traffic, which worked out in their favor.

“We got here ahead of the orange traffic cones and had no difficulty getting here,” Conant said.

Taking a break inside the River Street Visitor Information Center, Robert Sibley didn’t have the same luck.

“The only bad thing down was the ride down here,” said Sibley, who evacuated from Charleston, S.C.

“It was about four or four and half hours instead of two. Everything coming out of Charleston was just backed up.”

Although their experience getting to the city was different Conant, Lawler and Sibley all had the same plans for the days ahead.

“Were getting our candy and then going to Savannah Bee Company. Were going to visit all of our favorite places.”

Lots of foot traffic is nothing new for the center, but First Impression Specialist Wayne Howell, said he’s noticing more visitors from North and South Carolina as the week progresses.

“I just tell them we might get a little of this or a little of that, but basically Savannah is safe… Basically we might get some wind and rain, but we’re still up an going.”

A little further down River Street outside of True Grits gift shop Samuel Wohlfeil was attempting to bring in a different type of customer.

“Dog biscuits! I’ve got dog biscuits, come bring your dog in,” Wohlfeil shouted from the doorway.

“We’re significantly busier than usual. I last worked on Tuesday and we weren’t that busy, so I think it picked up yesterday,” he said.

Moon River Brewing Company on Bay Street might have the most ‘Savannah” plan when it comes to the hurricane.

The establishment is boosting their staff in anticipation of a busy weekend of humans and their four-legged friends, Beeco said.

A little further south The DeSoto, as it has in the past, is serving as a safe haven for first responders.

Our hotel is always one of the preferred places for first responders each time we’re threatened with a storm, and this one is no different,” said Marketing and Communications Manager, Miranda Marchant.

“We are grateful to be able to house the Coast Guard and other first responder groups while they wait to figure out the storms path. We do have some evacuees, but other than that it is business as usual.”

Heading into the weekend Marchant said The DeSoto is at full capacity, but the staff is working to meet the needs of evacuees and regular travelers alike and are ready should anything change with the forecast.

It’s been a sit-and-wait game for the whole city, and that goes for the visitors as well. Our goal is to prepare for the worst and be as flexible as possible. Even guests that aren’t traveling to or from the affected area are experiencing flight delays and other travel issues, so we are working to meet everyone’s needs as they arise,” she said.

“We have been preparing all week for just in case. Including stocking up on food and water more than normal and thinking ahead about staff scheduling and any adjustments that might need to be made. After two years of hurricane threats in a row, we are really thankful to be on the outskirts this time but are still getting ready just like we would if we had a more significant threat. When dealing with Mother Nature, it’s always better to be over than under prepared”

As of late afternoon on Thursday According to a report from Visit Savannah, there were about 2,100 rooms available from today Friday through Sunday in the downtown Historic District and just over 500 available in the midtown area.

“Savannah is grateful to have missed the brunt of Florence but looks forward to welcoming new friends traveling from other destinations,” said Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah.

Michael Owens, president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council said he expects the area to see an increase of about eight percent to 10 percent in bookings year over year due to the number of evacuees.

“I’ve been on the streets most of the day talking to people and a lot are saying they’re from those afflicted areas and they’re appreciating the southern hospitality they’re being shown by the entire community while they’re here,” he said.

“I think that makes a lot of sense because this time last year a lot of us were evacuating and we had to go find new homes temporarily elsewhere and I think that’s in the forefront of everyone’s mind in tourism and hospitality. We want to make sure people are treated just as well as we were treated when we went to their communities to escape our storm.”

Posted in Savannah