Just as church services were starting in parts of the country not being mortally threatened by Hurricane Irma, Floridians trickled into the Georgia Visitor Information Center parking lot.
The center itself, with its peach-and-pecan-emblazoned fliers, was closed but folks milled about the open bathroom area, using its outlets to charge their phones.
Many had left North Florida earlier Sunday morning, short on time and and even shorter on options.
Loretta Noahr, 78, and her husband left about 7:15 a.m. from their home in Bushnell, which they’ve never evacuated. Bushnell is a city of a couple thousand residents about 35 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico but much closer to the vast lake system surrounding Orlando.
“This one is one that we thought we could be able to stay home for, but we found out that it could be really, really bad,” she said of their Sunday morning decision.
She said they packed up two suitcases and drove north to the visitors center, where her husband was inside shaving.
Noahr said they didn’t know where they’d go.
“We’re just going to go where we can get gas, go somewhere where it can blow over and then go back home,” she said.
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With the storm moving west, one Florida man staring hard at a state map on the wall said he might head toward to coast, maybe Jesup because he felt it was far enough inland. Another person had six Siamese cats in crates but nowhere to go. Many Floridians talked of their unfruitful search for a hotel room somewhere, anywhere.
Lauren Rhodes, 32, was with friends and family, including children that ranged in ages from 1½ to 12, at the visitors center Sunday morning.
The seven of them left Williston, a small Florida city about 10 miles off I-75 between Gainesville and Ocala, about 7 a.m.
She said they waited until they were sure of what the storm would do. They packed personal records, canned food and water.
“That eye wall, I’m not trying to mess with that,” she said, while rocking a toddler in her arms.