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Hilton Head evacuees choose Grovetown to ride out second hurricane

Posted: September 20, 2017 - 12:57am
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Deb Karambelas said her family was drawn to the Grovetown area after discovering difficulty in finding decently priced places to stay. “They accommodate very well for pets,” she said of the Home2Suites hotel. and her 7-year-old English Pointer brave the wind and rain outside the Grovetown hotel during Tropical Storm Irma to use the restroom last week.

Every few hours, Deb Karambelas braved the driving wind and rain brought on by Tropical Storm Irma to walk each of her six dogs.

It was a routine Karambelas, her husband Nick and sister Sarah completed during their stay at the Home2Suites hotel in Grovetown.

"We have hunting dogs. They're big and they can be kind of crazy sometimes, but the hotel here is very gracious," Karambelas said.

The family evacuated from their home on Hilton Head Island, S.C., Saturday afternoon after a mandatory order from their governor due to Irma, which at the time was a hurricane. The family packed their bags and all six of their large dogs into two vehicles, and headed to familiar territory in Grovetown, where they came to escape Hurricane Matthew last year.

"They accommodate very well for pets," she said. "They are used to what they do, they understand our needs, which is awesome."

Karambelas said they were drawn to the Grovetown area after discovering difficulty in finding decently priced places to stay with their six dogs and after a pleasant experience from locals the last time her family evacuated, she said it made the choice to return was easy when they were forced to evacuate again this year.

"I was amazed at how welcoming they were with us," Karambelas recalled of arriving at the hotel last year, not knowing what to expect. "Then I had to go buy groceries. So then I went across the street to Wal-Mart and I walked in - and last year they had a table as you walked in to the grocery store side, with some bottled water - and there were some donuts, some hand wipes, and the lady looked at me and said, ‘If you're an evacuee, this is for you, take whatever you want.'"

Karambelas said it was comforting to know people at the store understood the challenges they were facing as evacuees.

"They know we are not from here, they know we are stressed, we are out of our element, and they're so friendly and so willing to help us to make our situation just a little bit better, so we can be not quite as stressed or panicked about not knowing because the big thing is not knowing for a lot of folks," Karambelas said.

The journey from Hilton Head this year was uneventful, Karambales recalled, describing clear back roads and no trouble getting gas. She said the family made the call to evacuate after Hurricane Irma's path became unpredictable.

"We decided that you really couldn't tell where it was going to go because it was such a big storm, it was so wide," Karambales said. "We decided it would be best to go on ahead before we got ourselves into driving in the dark or maybe the wind would pick up early, you just don't know, so we went ahead and made that call, and loaded the car up, which took a couple hours to get everything in."

When evacuating, Karambelas said they first and foremost ensured they had all of their necessary medications and pet records.

"When you get where you're going, usually you are evacuating to a safe place, meaning there will be laundry facilities; you can buy clothes if you forget something to wear," Karambelas said. "So the things you need to grab are the things that are most important to you and things that you cannot replace, but medication is at the top of the list."

Karambelas added bringing medication is important because people often don't realize the issues that could arise with trying to get an issued prescription filled in a different state.

"You can't just walk into CVS or any drug store and hand them a script from a state over; sometimes that does not work. And with animals, you make sure you take your pet records because people want to know that they are up-to-date, vaccinated and that kind of thing," Karambelas said.

This is the second time in two years the Karambelas family has had to evacuate their home, but she believes it is crucial people follow evacuation orders.

"I think the most important thing that people need to remember is to leave. If you're asked to leave, leave," Karambelas said. "You cannot do anything by staying. In a storm, you cannot really save anything, you're not going to really have any way to go outside in a storm and save something. To put your life or your animals or your children or your elder people at risk is not worth it."

Karambelas said she was able to keep a positive attitude through both years of evacuating by taking into account she has no control over Mother Nature.

"There's not a lot you can do. She is going to do what she is going to do. She has her own game plan. So the best thing you can do is try to stay calm, try to stay safe and rest while you have time," Karambelas said. "Because when you do go home, if there are damages, there's a lot of cleanup to do."

During Irma, the family was at the hotel for eight days, but was able to return home by Tuesday to their home which Karambelas said was unscathed.

While they were in Grovetown, the family split two rooms between the three of them and the dogs.

Karambelas is part of the Pointer Rescue Organization and in both evacuations took two foster dogs in addition to the family's other three English Pointers and labrador retriever. Last year, the family had two different foster dogs, which Karambelas dubbed "hurricane dogs," and two new hurricane dogs this year. Both times, one of those rescues were taken under their wing just one week before having to evacuate.

But Karambelas said it is a labor of love, as the family performed multiple walking routines throughout the day, taking one dog at a time, and enjoying the company of other evacuee families.

"We have routine walking throughout the day and good conversation in the lobby with all of the other people who are staying here, and it's a lot of fun actually," Karambelas said.

And their hotel rooms are anything short of boring, even after the Home2Suites hotel lost power for more than three hours during the storm last week, but the Karambelas family was still smiling.

"We actually had two rooms and there's three of us, so we were kind of spread out. The nice thing is we have cooking facilities here, so we don't have to go out to dinner. We can cook right here and it's very comfortable," Karambelas said, adding they will happily return to Grovetown in the future as needed.

Before they left last week, they praised the level of hospitality.

"If you have to go, this is the place to go. Grovetown is awesome," Karambelas said. "You can't have a better place to evacuate to."

 

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