As Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Irma blew upward from Florida to South Carolina Sunday night, and as rains and wind began pelting the Lowcountry, three Red Cross shelters in Beaufort and Jasper counties kept 432 evacuees dry, according to Red Cross officials.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School sheltered 272 evacuees Sunday night. In Beaufort County, Battery Creek High School sheltered 77 people, and Bluffton High School accommodated 83 evacuees.
Most of those sheltered were families, said Lou Palm, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in eastern South Carolina. Many of those who sought shelter during Hurricane Matthew last fall also arrived at the shelters before Irma, he said, adding that for their latest stay, they brought along more supplies and sometimes inflatable mattresses.
Almost all of the latest visitors were South Carolinians, but the shelter in Jasper County also accommodated 18 evacuees from Florida and one from Georgia, Palm said.
The shelters were filled to a fraction of their overall capacities, Palm said. Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School, for instance, had 1,071 available spots. Capacities for the Beaufort County high schools were not immediately available.
Because the shelters were set up as coastal storm shelters rather than hurricane shelters, evacuees were given more room, Palm said. Representatives from the state Department of Social Services were available at all times. Occupants were given cots and cleanup kits, and the schools served them food from the cafeterias. Children played with footballs, basketballs and other games.
“We tried to make it as comfortable as possible,” Palm said.
The Red Cross closed its shelter in Ridgeland at noon Tuesday, and it was in the process of closing the Beaufort County shelters Tuesday.