Leah Van Buren Bolton, Jim Gregory, Mary Jackson and Robert Riker have never met. But they have at least two things in common.
All four live in mountainous areas hundreds of miles inland from the East Coast. And all have just offered their homes to some of the more than 1 million people facing mandatory evacuation orders as Hurricane Florence takes aim at the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
In recent days, Facebook groups such as Hurricane Florence 2018 and Hurricane Florence Lodging For Evacuees have hosted dozens of posts from people and organizations offering shelter to those fleeing the Category 5 storm.
“We’ve fled our share of Hurricanes. And we know the cost of staying in a hotel and having to eat out can quickly add up at a time when anxiety, fear and uncertainty is high,” Riker told CNN. He and his family live in Waynesville, North Carolina — in the western part of the state — and are opening their house to a couple or small family.
“We just want to offer some relief to someone who has greater worries going on in their life than I do. We’re all in this life together. And we only have each other to rely on,” he added.
Riker said he, his wife, three children and a dog used to live in Jacksonville and had to flee several hurricanes over the years, including Hurricane Matthew.
When trampolines become beds
Last year Leah Van Buren Bolton opened her house in Kingsport, Tennessee, to 26 people evacuating from Hurricane Irma.
“We’re human and people need help. When people need help you help them,” she told CNN.
Bolton also owns a trampoline park called Quantum Leap Trampoline Sports Arena, about 20 minutes away from her family home. She’s planning to first fill her house with evacuees, then open the trampoline area for up to 70 more people. Pets are welcome.
“We slept on those trampolines many times for lock-ins and our kids’ birthday parties. They’re actually pretty comfortable,” she said. “With over 1 million people needing a place to stay, how can we not let them when we have 71 beds open?”
Last year Bolton managed to cram 26 people in her house as Irma hit Florida, asking on Facebook for more mattresses, sheets and blankets as more evacuees arrived.
“My sister came up from Florida first, then our really good friends who are originally from Venezuela, and we put them up. And then we started getting phone call after phone call from friends and friends of friends that had nowhere to go,” she said.
“One guy came in crying at four in the morning because he had a 2-year-old and a very pregnant wife,” she continued. “They were so relieved to be able to finally put their head down in a safe place.”
Rustic lodging in the mountains
Bolton isn’t the only person opening a business to evacuees.
Jim Gregory owns a hostel and campground on almost 2.5 acres next to the Appalachian Trail and Watauga Lake just outside of Hampton, Tennessee.
He previously lived in Florida for 13 years and has been through several hurricanes.
“I know what it’s like not to have the money to be able to flee a storm, and the costs associated with lodging, camping, etc… if it wasn’t planned for,” he told CNN.
“So if I can even help one person or family to be safe during this dangerous storm, I will,” he said. “Our accommodations are not for everyone but for people that like camping and ‘ lamping’ and don’t mind the social setting of a hostel, we are a good fit with a bunkhouse that sleeps 8 and several tiny cabins that can sleep 3 comfortably.
“Plus, for those who like to camp we have a large campground with 21 primitive wooded sites.”
‘We all need to do our part’
Mary Jackson, who lives in Elizabethton, Tennessee, experienced the destructive power of big storms firsthand when she lived in Durham, North Carolina, during Hurricane Fran in 1996.
“Even 150 miles inland, we had 80 mile-an-hour winds, days without power, widespread devastation and months of clean up,” she told CNN.
Now Jackson is offering her room for Florence evacuees:
“I am a Christian with room to spare and feel that we all need to do our part in times of trouble,” she said. “We are a reasonable drive from many of the affected areas. I have already reached out to friends of mine in the Raleigh-Durham area. I also have lots of friends in this area who would be willing to help.”
Shelter for pets, too
People fleeing the hurricane face tough choices over what to do with their pets.
To help them, shelters and animal hospitals are offering to take in pets during the storm.
Camp Bow Wow, in South Asheville, North Carolina, has dropped the deposit required for boarding a pet for those people affected by Florence. The dog daycare and boarding facility is located on a hill, so it should not have any flooding.
“We have capacity for another 40 and 50 dogs,” the camp said. “We have already received one request from a nursing home from the North Carolina coastal region for 10 dogs or so.”
Shelly R. Dittmer of Wilmington, North Carolina, told CNN she is still looking for a shelter to place her pets. She has scouted a few Facebook groups for animal hospitals with no luck.
“I have a dog and a cat that I’d prefer not take with me when I leave,” she said Tuesday. “We will leave in the morning. I’ve tried a few shelters and animal hospitals in the area but everything is shutting down here. I’ll just take them with me.”
Meanwhile, a Nashville-based pet rescue made a trip to South Carolina to save about 30 dogs and cats from shelters in the path of the hurricane. A team at Big Fluffy Dog Rescue drove more than 20 hours to retrieve the animals at a shelter in Pawleys island.
“We got back in at midnight. It was about 24 hours round trip, so not too bad. Luckily we had some awesome volunteers meet us at our kennel facility to help unload, walk, feed and settle all the fur kids in,” Tiffany Carol Fintel, a Nashville vet technician, told CNN.
Fintel added that Big Fluffy is not equipped for cats, but the founder of the rescue, Jean Harrison, has a “no animal left behind” policy so they picked up kittens too.
“When I arrived at the shelter to discover 15 cats, Jean said to load as many as we could fit,” Fintel said. “If there had been pigs or even a duck she would have told me to take them too lol. The cats are settling in and we have a few cat rescues stepping up to help with them.”