Dothan hotels filling up as Florida evacuees flee Hurricane Irma's path

(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Florida evacuees are making their way up north to get out of Hurricane Irma's path. For many, their first stop is less than 20 miles from the border in Dothan.

Many of the evacuees started arriving Wednesday. Local hotels say they started getting reservations as early as this past weekend.

"Things have been chaotic. We've had people calling from south Florida, the middle of Florida. They're staying through Friday to the middle of the week. We're actually sold out until next Wednesday," said Crystal Daniels, Sales Manager at the La Quinta Inn and Suites.

They aren't the only hotel booked. According to representatives at the Dothan Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau, at least 97 percent of Dothan's 32 hotels are booked. There are three hotels still accepting walk-ins - Best Western, Adams Inn, and the Bee Line Motel. Hotel accommodations were already slim ahead of Irma's impact.

"The USTA doubles state tournament is in town this weekend," said Katie Parrish, Director of Operations and Marketing for Visit Dothan. "It's an annual tournament. We're expecting anywhere from 200 to 500 people staying in hotel rooms to play in the USTA tournament this weekend. So, not only are we seeing evacuees, we were already at 50 percent capacity because of the USTA event."

According to Parrish, Dothan has about 2,800 hotel rooms.

Emergency Management Agency director, Chris Judah, says Dothan will have accommodations for evacuees but there is only so much space to hold people safely.

"As people come our way, maybe they want to keep going north to Troy, Montgomery, Birmingham, Huntsville. Those areas won't be as full as we are right now," said Judah.

Some evacuees have traveled from as far as Cape Coral, Florida - which is about an 8 hour drive. Their plan: secure the home and get out before it gets bad.

For Shirley Dees and her daughter Rita Shuber, they didn't make it home to Sarasota, Florida after visiting family in Mississippi before they were warned to turn around.

"It's really annoying. I don't know how my house is going to be. I wasn't able to put anything up or tie it down or make sure everything is going to be there when I get back," said Shirley Dees.

Dees says they have family in Sarasota making the 6 hour trip to Dothan to get to safety.

Although it's unclear the exact impact Hurricane Irma will have on Dothan right now, the Houston County EMA says they are preparing,

"A lot of times people think we may overdo it and that's okay. Maybe we're prepared and nothing happens. It's better to be that way and a storm come and we're not prepared," said Judah.

The EMA is also encouraging people to stock up on water, food and fill up gas tanks just in case.

Judah says the next few days will be spent planning and checking equipment. There is a planning meeting Thursday at 4 p.m. that will include the EMA, law enforcement, Red Cross and school officials.

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