Evacuees depart shelters, hoping for good news at home

By Tuesday afternoon, all six emergency shelters opened to house Irma evacuees across St. Johns County had been shuttered.


The County has activated the Solomon Calhoun Community Center to act as a temporary refuge for those who continue to need shelter or return to their homes to find them uninhabitable after the storm.

At the peak on Monday, occupancy at the shelters was fairly modest: 122 at Pacetti Bay; 128 at Timberlin Creek Elementary School; 134 at South Woods Elementary School; 133 at Bartram Trail High School; 500 at Pedro Menendez High School; 164 at Mill Creek Elementary School.

The County mobilized the six schools to act as shelters beginning last Saturday. None reached full capacity at any time except Pedro Menendez High School.

As of Tuesday morning, Carla Brock, her mother and 9-year-old son were among the approximately 40 people left remaining at Pedro Menendez. Many had already packed up their lawn chairs, coolers, linens and other essentials and either boarded a school bus or drove themselves home to assess potential storm damage once the roads and bridges were cleared.

Brock, too, had collected her personal items from the small corner of the gymnasium floor her family had called home for nearly four days. But once out in the parking lot, she found that her Chevrolet Tracker wouldn’t start.

“We were in such a hurry and it was pouring rain when we got here that we left a door open; it ran down the battery,” Brock, who lives off U.S. Hwy 1 South, said.

Fortunately, fellow evacuee Gary Beesley who was leaving at about the same time was there with his car. A jumpstart from Beesley and Brock was on her way so she could go pick up her two pets staying with a friend on the Island.

It was that kind of spirit that buoyed evacuees in what was an otherwise pretty stressful situation. While it was certainly no picnic, many of those who stayed at the facilities complimented shelter personnel and emergency responders for making things a bit easier.

“The National Guard was a great assistance, anything you needed,” said Brock’s mother, Denise Jones.

Valerie Carey rode out the storm with her mother, two young grandchildren and a nephew at the shelter. The kindness of strangers went a long way toward maintaining her sanity.

“It was long, it was tedious, but the people around us were great, playing peek-a-boo with the baby even,” Carey said.

There were no major issues that came up, according to Clay Carmichael, Pedro Menendez’s principal who oversaw operation of the shelter along with other Menendez staff who get activated to go into a community service role when a school shelter is opened.

For the more elderly of the population, Carmichael said, “spending 10 to 12 hours in a shelter can exacerbate some [medical] conditions they may already have.” At the height of the storm, when anxiety kicked in, about one person per hour had to be transferred to a medical facility for care or receive other treatment, according to Carmichael.

For Robert Charters, it was the first time in the 20 years he’s lived in St. Augustine he felt the need to leave his home for an emergency shelter.

“So far, of the three hurricanes I went through, this one sounded the worst,” said Charters, 74.

Until he got home, Charters still couldn’t be sure if it was. He hoped for the best.