Hurricane evacuees seeking shelter near the Smokies

Oct. 6, 2016: Hurricane Matthew is forcing families in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia to move in-land, with many of them heading to East Tennessee.

The Georgia and Carolina coasts are popular travel destinations this time of year, but with evacuations orders in place for some of those areas because of Hurricane Matthew, many residents and potential vacationers are looking for another place to go. 

October is already the second-busiest month in the Smokies behind July. The area sees families on fall break and leaf-peepers checking out the fall colors in the mountains.

So accommodations are near capacity under normal circumstances, not to mention with an influx of people fleeing the storm's path.

Tourism officials in Sevier County says they are trying to accommodate an influx of people and pets who are fleeing the storm. 

In addition to calls about hotels, cabins and resort availability, they are also fielding calls about places to boards cats and dogs. 

Lory Souders, owner of The Barker Lounge animal day care center in Sevierville, said she is already receiving a large volume of calls. 

"We are seeing a lot of people last-minute calling in, asking if we take certain breeds, asking if we have availability over the weekend and they don't know how long they'll be staying," Souders said. 

She said she already has about 20 more dogs than normal due to hurricane evacuees, and anticipates even more as we near the weekend - and the storm's landfall.

One of the pups staying at The Barker Lounge is Macon. His family lives in an evacuation zone, but just happened to have a vacation to the Smokies already planned for this weekend. 

"Who would've ever thought a hurricane would've formed and come into land during the same time," said Mandy Keen, Macon's owner.

But because of the evacuation, plans to keep Macon with the vet back home in Beaufort, S. C., had to change. Macon came along for the trip, but dogs aren't allowed in the cabin where the family is staying. So he is staying at The Barker Lounge. 

Eduardo Reyes and his family, including their two dogs, evacuated from Charleston, S.C. For their family, now staying at a cabin outside Pigeon Forge, the trip was unexpected. 

"No, it's not a vacation. It's like more of, you had to leave. Like a mandatory evacuation," Reyes said. 

For the Reyes family and many others along the coast, an evacuation order is necessary, but costly. 

"We had to just pack up every little stuff we had and just come on, you know? And it is hard for people living paycheck to paycheck like me, you know, just to get up and leave just like that," Reyes said. "But it's something we have to do, you know? And there are still a lot of people back in Charleston that can't afford to leave."

(© 2016 WBIR)


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