Hurricane evacuees retreat to Tuscaloosa, see Southern hospitality firsthand

Tuscaloosa this week welcomed residents from Florida who were fleeing ahead of Hurricane Ian, which smashed into the state Wednesday afternoon.

Khristina Smith is from Apollo Beach, Florida, which is about 20 miles from Tampa.

Her son is a student at Shelton State Community College here in Tuscaloosa, so it made sense for her to ride out the storm in T-Town.

While Smith evacuated to Tuscaloosa, her daughter, husband and other family members remain in Florida.

“(My husband) is there,” Smith said. “Him and the neighbors spent yesterday hurricane prepping each other’s houses and boarding up windows and helping each other. Neighbors helping neighbors that don’t have anywhere else to go or they want to stay and hunker down with our houses. I just hope everyone is safe back home and we have homes to go back to.”

In Tuscaloosa, Smith and her son are staying together just off the interstate at the Sure Stay Hotel by Best Western.

“We are just those arms of support,” said Sure Stay General Manager Huey Harris. “We care about people genuinely. ”

Smith said Harris and his staff welcomed her, her son and his dog Bandit with open arms and are making their stay more than comfortable during this frightening time.

“Watching it today is a little depressing,” Smith said. “I am wishing I was home. It is just kind of tough. You don’t know what you are coming back to, and my husband is there and my family and my daughter. It is a little heartbreaking to watch. I am used to seeing it go away and take a turn. So, from what I have seen from my direct neighbors’ videos today, it is tough to watch knowing that family is there, and your home is there. I am glad to be here with my son, but it is kind of devastating to now be there either at the same time.”

To make things a little easier on smith, the Sure Stay family wanted to surprise her with a big blessing.

“When I heard about your story, I was really excited,” Harris said. “I just wanted to let you know this is a gift from the hotel, from our entire staff. We just wanted to be a kind blessing to you. That’s what we do here in Tuscaloosa at Sure Stay hotel. Your room, your stay is totally free. You don’t have to worry about anything. I just wanted to bless you and know that we really care about the people in Florida.”

“That is wonderful,” Smith said. “What a blessing.”

Harris said all other hurricane evacuee guests will receive a discounted rate and waived pet fee.

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