Jasper providing refuge for Floridians escaping Irma's fury

By NICOLE SMITH, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 9/10/17

The City of Jasper is serving as a safe haven for Floridians and others in the path of Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Highway 78 and Interstate 22 in Jasper were noticeably busier than normal Saturday as people from Florida and …

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Jasper providing refuge for Floridians escaping Irma's fury

Posted

The City of Jasper is serving as a safe haven for Floridians and others in the path of Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Highway 78 and Interstate 22 in Jasper were noticeably busier than normal Saturday as people from Florida and those traveling from other states passed through the county, or decided to stay in the area as Hurricane Irma prepared to make landfall in the Sunshine State.

As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Hurricane Irma remained a category 3 hurricane, with sustained winds of 125 mph, as bands from the hurricane began reaching the Florida coast. More than 6 million people had been evacuated, with 54,000 in shelters across Florida, according to CNN.

As people traveled north to escape Irma’s wrath, many were settling in Jasper Saturday.

A number of Florida car tags were visible in hotel parking lots off I-22 in Jasper, and many Floridians were also fueling their cars at Love’s Travel Stop off the interstate.

A quick Internet search on Saturday evening showed that all hotel rooms in Jasper were sold out or had less than five rooms left to reserve.

Across Jasper, planes were flying into the Walker County Airport from ATP Flight School, which provides training and certification for pilots.

Joey Sanders, the owner of Sanders Aviation and overseer of the Walker County Airport, said many of the flight school’s planes from Florida and individual aircrafts are being kept at the airport until Irma is no longer a threat.

“The president of the company (ATP) is a personal friend of mine, and he called and wanted to know if he could move the planes to Walker County because of Irma. They’re down in Jacksonville, Fla., and also over at Daytona Beach and Atlanta, so they moved everything up to Walker County, temporarily,” Sanders said. “The president of the company is going to pay Walker County for using the tie downs. I don’t collect from it, it’s the county that will collect from it.”

Sanders said he is disappointed to see companies increasing fuel prices because of Hurricane Irma, and said he hasn’t raised the airport’s jet fuel prices. He added, however, that some of the airport’s jet fuel will be kept on reserve for emergency aircraft.

Sanders said emergency jet fuel has been crucial in the past, especially after the tornadoes in 2011.

“I’m not going to take advantage of these people because of the weather. I noticed a lot of people went way up on their fuel, and we’re just not going to do that,” Sanders said. “We’ll accommodate everybody that we can, including individual pilots.”

He said their aviation facility is self-serve, and some pilots fleeing Irma have even used the facility’s lobby to rest after longs flights.

Sanders said roughly 40 pilots are staying at hotels in Jasper.

Jasper Mayor David O’Mary said the city will see an economic impact as people seek refuge from Irma.

“It appears to be having an impact on retail sales, which equates to sales tax — the biggest source of revenue that the city has,” O’Mary said, adding that he has a message to anyone staying in the city as Irma impacts their home state.

“We’re pleased to have you, and you’re always welcome here. If you encounter problems of any sort, do not hesitate to call on our police department for help, and they will meet the needs wherever they need to be directed,” he said. “We’re pleased that they made the decision to stay in our city as we wait for the storm to pass.”