Irma evacuees flock to Valdosta only to put themselves in storm’s path


Irma evacuees flock to Valdosta only to put themselves in storm’s path

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Ben Brasch/AJC
Tifden, 3, swings outside Crosspointe Church in Valdosta, which the Red Cross is using as a shelter for Hurricane Irma evacuees. His 28-year-old mother Tiffany Armstrong left Darien with other relatives and slept overnight Friday at the church.

Only the youth size life jackets remained at the Walmart in Darien by the time Tiffany Armstrong left Friday night.

She and her 3-year-old son Tifden along with other relatives drove to Crosspointe Church in Valdosta, which they knew from Facebook was taking Hurricane Irma evacuees.

They were among the 150 people the shelter had provided either food or rest in the 16 hours since opening at 6 p.m. Friday.

Armstrong said they drove 2½ hours but had a slight hiccup upon arriving to Valdosta: She didn’t know the church had moved into a new building since Crosspointe had last given her respite, which was a year ago for Hurricane Matthew.

“I’m scared. It’s worse that Matthew,” she said of Irma.

As her son played on the swing outside the church Saturday morning after a night’s sleep, she described her fears.

There was her bottom-floor apartment positioned right by a pond in a city that lies at mouth of the Altamaha River, but there was also the fact that they’d evacuated right into the storm’s path.

Valdosta, in Lowndes County, was among the cities in Georgia expected to experience at least tropical-storm force winds.

“They’re thinking about it,” said Chris Staples, the Red Cross worker managing the 405-bed shelter operation at the church.

David Rogers is lead pastor of the church, which he said regularly sees 2,200 folks on Sunday. But not this Sunday. Services are canceled.

“This is our service,” he said looking around the room.

Still, the pastor predicts the operation will cost the church $30,000 for supplies and a lost Sunday of donations.

Rogers said the church has taken in Floridians evacuees for four years, but Irma is different because it’s coming for his parishoners.

“This is the first time our community is looking to us for a shelter while taking in those heading north from Florida,” he said. “... It kind of puts everyone on edge a bit.”

Larry Brandon is one of them.

He didn’t know Valdosta was now in the storm’s path until he got to the church to help Saturday morning. So Brandon, who has been with the church a decade, was at the shelter talking to evacuees with thoughts in the back of his mind of his own home, which has flooded before during heavy rains.

“I try to block it out,” he said. “ ... My anxiety is rising a bit.”

Brandon, 66, said he plans on going home at some point to secure his home from the storm.

“Every time you look at it ... it gets worse,” he said.

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The impacted areas are between Savannah and Dublin. Channel 2 Action News
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