As thousands of evacuees flee Hurricane Irma, some found temporary shelter in East Tennessee. One West Knoxville family took in five college students from Ave Maria, Florida.
Katie and Laura Keenan, Dominic Allan, Marco Gonzalez and Jake Carletta all attend Ave Maria University. It’s about 30 miles inland from Naples, Florida, one of the areas seeing the brunt of the storm.
The students decided to head north after the university canceled classes and urged students to evacuate. Sisters Katie and Laura Keenan had family friends living in Knoxville.
“Flights were hard to come by, expensive and hard to find a way out so we decided to drive through the night and we had texted them and they were like, ‘yes, you’re welcome here,'” Katie said.
But, their friends didn’t have enough room to house all five students, so, the Councill family stepped up.
“We had the space and we would hope that other people would do it for us,” Jennie Councill said.
Her four children are enjoying the student’s company. Dad Clay Councill said it’s teaching his kids an important lesson.
“We can help people wherever we are. We don’t have to be in the eye of the storm to be helping people out, we can be a couple 100 miles away and still there are people affected and we can open up our homes and give back,” he said.
As the storm battered the Naples area on Sunday, the students watched from the Councill’s TV.
“It’s just tough knowing you can’t really do anything,” Gonzalez said. His family is from Miami and was not able to evacuate.
“When they were thinking about leaving, it was already too late due the traffic on the interstate,” he said.
Allan’s family, however, got out ahead of the storm, but he’s still worried about their house in Ave Maria.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before, knowing that I could go back and my house could be destroyed,” he said.
The students all agreed, the Councill’s hospitality helps to calm their nerves.
“It’s really great to see that during this worrisome time that there are so many people that are taking care of each other,” Allan said.
The students plan to head back to Florida once the storm passes on Monday.
Even though it was not the best of circumstance, they have enjoyed their time in Knoxville. The Councills took them out to dinner, camping in the Smokies and the University of Tennessee gave them tickets to Saturday’s Vol game.