Dozens of campers, RVs, and trailers with people fleeing Hurricane Irma’s damaging winds and rain filled High Falls State Park near Jackson Sunday.
Georgia State Parks are waiving and reducing many fees for evacuees.
Amber Wallace and her family evacuated from St. Petersburg, Florida, an area right in Irma’s path.
”We have two children. We needed to get them out of there,” said Wallace. ”You just want it to be over because you’re sitting here and you can’t do anything.”
They boarded up their home, not knowing what might still be standing when they return, so she brought her family photo albums.
”You just burst into tears all the time because you just don’t know – you feel every feeling known. You feel all of them,” said Wallace.
Her family is one of hundreds traveling through Georgia.
”I’m glad that we are able to provide the service for them and give them – if anything – a place where they can rest their mind, because I cannot imagine being stuck in traffic for 14 hours,” said Park ranger Alyson Snipes.
Snipes said there are about 20 to 30 percent more people in High Falls Park now compared to this time last year – mainly due to those seeking refuge from Irma.
Willy Thompson and his family were forced to evacuate their home on Tybee Island.
”They made it mandatory on Friday at 8 o’clock,” said Thompson. ”When people left, they had somewhere else to go. When we go back, it is our home.”
Thompson said some of his friends chose to stay in an attempt to ride out the storm.
”Some of them seem to think it’s going to miss Tybee. That’s a chance we couldn’t take. We have kids,” said Thompson.
Many of these families do not know if they will be able to return home.
”You’re talking your job, your friends, your life, your beautiful city. We don’t even know if we’ll get back there,” said Wallace.
Rangers said they have been releasing water from the lake in an attempt to decrease the risk of flooding. They said the lake has dropped about a foot and a half, and hope to double that before the storm hits.
They plan to keep the gates open throughout the storm, but say that could change. The dam releases into the Towaliga river, which flows into the Ocmulgee.
”Anytime we have a large storm coming in, it can flood the lake so we started drawing down the lake so that way we’ll decrease the chances of flooding,” said Snipes.