Care centers for seniors in Florida are not taking any chances with their residents’ safety as Hurricane Irma churns toward the United States.
Around 30 people from an assisted living facility in Inverness, Florida, have taken shelter from the storm by evacuating to Knoxville.
Deane Hill Place, an assisted living facility in West Knoxville, welcomed the group from inverness late Wednesday night. The evacuees consist of 17 residents, some of their family members, and caregivers employed at the facility.
"They arrived around 11:00 p.m. last night [Wednesday]. They were just so grateful to get here. They had been on that bus for about 13 hours," said Elisabeth McGhee, executive director of Deane Hill Place.
McGhee said her staff had 24 hours’ notice to prepare for their guests from Florida. Deane Hill Place is owned by the same company as the facility in Florida.
"We were able to get cots, sheets, blankets, and mattresses for the top of the cots. Today we’re installing real beds for everyone. We were able to put together toiletry kits for them. We had firemen and EMTs here from Knoxville Fire Department to help get everyone unloaded and make sure there were no falls. Sevier County, they were able to donate a lot of items that were left over from the wildfires last year," said McGhee.
The reason they chose Knoxville is Deane Hill Place has several rooms vacant from recent renovations, meaning there was enough room for the entire group from Florida to evacuate without splitting up.
"They are a family and they are so used to being together. It is so important that you are able to get with the people you love when you have been displaced like these people have been," said McGhee.
While folks from Florida are accustomed to weathering hurricanes, there was no hesitation evacuating when faced with the power of Irma in the immediate wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
"I think that [Hurricane Harvey] was quite a bit of an eye opener for a lot of people. But I think also with the intensity Irma is bringing, we knew that we didn't want to risk it," said McGhee.
Recent forecast models predict Irma to make its way through Florida on Sunday and Monday. The evacuees plan to stay in Knoxville at least through next Wednesday. Beyond that depends entirely on the damage from Irma.