Evacuees head south to wait out Hurricane Florence

Many South Carolina families evacuate, pass through Georgia on way to Florida

By Alicia Booth - Reporter/anchor, Erik Avanier - Reporter

Hurricane Florence put a corridor of more than 10 million people in the crosshairs Wednesday as the monster storm closed in on the Carolinas, uncertainty over its projected path spreading worry across a widening swath of the Southeast.

Faced with new forecasts that showed a more southerly threat, Georgia's governor joined his counterparts in Virginia and North and South Carolina in declaring a state of emergency, and some residents who had thought they were safely out of range boarded up their homes.

As of Tuesday, more than 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to flee. More than 300,000 people had already left the South Carolina coast, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Wednesday.

McMaster has ordered much of the state's coastline evacuated, reversing some lanes of Interstate 26 to direct all traffic inland.

Farther south, Interstate 95 in Camden County, Georgia, was full of people trying to get out of Florence's path.

Many stopped at the Welcome Center on the Florida-Georgia state line as they made their way to Florida to wait out the storm.

Evacuees told News4Jax that it's a frightening time, but they're trying to make the best of it for their children. 

As they headed to Florida, the Kinowskis tried to stay positive for the sake of their three boys, but they know their Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, home is in serious danger.

"It is frightening," Courtney Kinowski said. "You're going to have water that comes into the house potentially. Then you have scared kids at home, possibly scared grown-ups at home. We have two animals. It just wasn't a situation that we wanted to stick around for."

The Kinowski boys did not yet know they were headed to their very first trip to Walt Disney World.

"We can't wait to see the excitement on their faces," Kinowski said.  "(We're) trying to make a little bit of lemonade out of life's lemons right now."

The Kinowskis passed through Georgia after evacuating their South Carolina home.

The Skaggs were another South Carolina family heading through the area, trying to make the best of it by joining some friends in Kissimmee, Florida.

"We're running away," Tommy Skaggs said. "Just hanging out and having some fun and hopefully we'll come back home with everything still in one piece."

In nearby Glynn County, preparations were underway for the annual Shrimp and Grits Festival this weekend on Jekyll Island. 

The festival pumps about $40 million into the Glynn County economy, which is why officials said it would be tough to cancel it.

"We learned that last year with Hurricane Irma," said Jessica Scott, with Jekyll Island Authority. "We actually did have to cancel it, and that loss was felt through the community."

Some evacuees may even check out the festival.

As of early Wednesday evening, there were still hotel rooms available along the I-95 corridor near the Florida-Georgia state line, but they were filling up quickly. 

Evacuees staying in St. Augustine hotels

Down in Northeast Florida, many evacuees from North Carolina and South Carolina were staying in hotels in St. Augustine.

Evacuees told News4Jax they traveled farther south to St. Johns County because many hotels in the Jacksonville area were already full.

"A lot of them are booked, prices are way too high and a lot of them won’t allow pets," said Tacy Bennett, who evacuated from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. "We had to bring our dog, and this (hotel) was reasonable.”

Evacuees said they’ve been through other hurricanes and knew better than to stick around for Florence. 

“Two years ago, Hurricane Matthew came through, and we had to leave for the hurricane," Bennett said. "When we came back, the Little Pee Dee River flooded and we were under 3 feet of water.”

News4Jax also met Danielle Scudder and her sister, who traveled to St. Augustine after evacuating Hilton Head, South Carolina.

"We had no choice but to split," Scudder said. "I feel safe in a big hotel like this, more so than my apartment.”

Tom Molinari, his wife and her daughter also evacuated Hilton Head.

“We booked last Sunday because we’ve been through this before. We knew to book ahead of time. We were lucky to get this. After that, there was nothing. We couldn’t find another place," Molinari said. 

A clerk at one Holiday Inn Express in St. Augustine told News4Jax on Wednesday that the hotel was virtually booked solid between Thursday and Saturday. She said the majority of the rooms were booked to people from South Carolina.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.