South Georgia Irma refugees keep spirits high in Waycross shelter

People from across South Georgia began to pour in Ware County High on Saturday night to wait out Hurricane Irma.

People from across South Georgia began to pour in Ware County High on Saturday night to wait out Hurricane Irma.

WAYCROSS — Maybe it was the distance of the storm, that it was still a day away. Maybe it was the oddity of this experience, picking out a cot in a cavernous, foreign gym with strangers. Maybe it was that projections have shown Irma weakening more and more by the time it hits Georgia.

Whatever the reason, a calm hung over South Georgians fleeing Hurricane Irma in Ware County High on Saturday night.

Elijah Potter, a 16-year-old playing guitar outside, was resigned and happy to have a way to kill the time. He hadn’t wanted to leave his Brantley County home earlier in the day, but local officials ordered the evacuation, and, at 16, a person only has so many options.

“I’m not allowed to stay by myself, especially during a hurricane,” he said before picking on a Foo Fighters song in front of the gym. “At least that’s what my momma says.”

His mom, Christine Potter, had no interest in testing the strength of their mobile home.

“We didn’t want it to blow over,” she said.

Like others in the shelter, the family couldn’t find a hotel available anywhere nearby and found the Waycross shelter their best option.

Cherie Plunkett, who works at the St. Marys Walmart, was one of the few who’d arrived Friday night. She brought her daughters, Malaysia, 12, and Tamarya, 9.

"This was the closest place we could go," the mother said, passing time on a cot.

Staying in a school with strangers hasn't been as stressful as it sounds for the Plunketts.

Tamarya thinks the gym is "awesome."

She's been playing games, which were set up on tables outside the cafeteria and blowing bubbles. The family has also taken a few trips around Waycross to kill time.

Edwardo Guzman, Brunswick waiter, also arrived Friday.

He's planning to stay at least through Tuesday, when the damage from Irma should be clear in the light of morning.

The prospect isn't ideal, but he's thankful to have a place.

"There's nothing we can do about Mother Nature," he said, sipping a cup of coffee on a bench outside the gym. "We'll try to enjoy it."

John Burgess, who got to the school Saturday night with a steady stream of evacuees, also wanted to take the situation in stride.

"I'm 71 and I'm not dead yet for a reason. God's keeping me around," the Brantley County resident said. "Why worry about a storm?"

Most of Tybee Island is quiet and empty, as residents evacuated the island on the Georgia east coast. However some residents didn't feel the need to leave town.