At first glance, the group of about two dozen people chatting around tables in the beige-walled conference room of a Sandy Springs hotel looked like just another group of conventioneers.
In fact, the guests at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria on Powers Ferry Road were evacuees from a senior residence in Florida who were still waiting for a safe trip home nine days after fleeing Hurricane Irma.
“I love the vacation, but I want to go home,” said Donald Bolling, an evacuee sporting an Air Force veteran ballcap and a Florida Gators shirt, as he sat at one of the tables that had just been squeezed together to make room for another event’s breakfast spread next door.
The seniors live in Wayman Place in Longwood, Fla., a city in metro Orlando. On Sept. 6, they joined the largest evacuation in Florida history to outrun the historically powerful Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in that state on Sept. 10. Thousands of evacuees came to metro Atlanta, filling up local hotels.
Wayman Place is owned by Chicago-based Enlivant, which operates several senior residences in Georgia and Florida, including Sandy Springs Place on Hightower Trail. The company chose to evacuate residents from both states who live in the hurricane threat zone to metro Atlanta, according to Wayman Place Executive Director Beverly Skaggs.
“Because our company also operates here, they thought that would be the safest place,” said Skaggs.
At Wayman Place, the residents got on a charter bus along with 11 staff members, including the chef, the activities director and medical technicians. After about 10 hours on the road, they found themselves at the Wydham, where they have waited ever since.
Irma followed them to metro Atlanta, where it struck locally on Sept. 11 as a significant tropical storm that felled trees, knocked out power and shuttered schools and government offices. A Sandy Springs man was killed about three miles away from the hotel when a large tree fell on his house.
Wayman Place’s building made it through Irma intact, Skaggs said, but there were reports of debris outside, and the phone system was still down. She was hopeful that the residents could head home by Monday, Sept. 18.