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Hurricane Florence evacuees find refuge at Bristol Motor Speedway campground

Zach Vance • Sep 12, 2018 at 10:53 PM

BRISTOL, Tennessee — With Hurricane Florence projected to wallop the Carolinas late Thursday and early Friday, millions along the East Coast are facing mandatory evacuation — and some have found refuge here in the Tri-Cities.

For the second year in a row, Bristol Motor Speedway opened its campground to hurricane evacuees on Tuesday, and by 4 p.m. Wednesday, more than a dozen RVs and campers were already parked inside the Medallion Campground, just off Highway 394 beside the Bristol Dragway — also known as Thunder Valley.

Angie and Tevis Lang were among those parked inside the campground Wednesday afternoon, after evacuating their home in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“We feel very blessed and very thankful for places like this. In times of disaster, it’s nice to see the patriotism, if you will, of people pulling together for their neighbors, people from out of state and all over praying for each other and emergency workers coming to the disaster area from other states,” Angie said.

“It just speaks volumes to how wonderful our nation is. Especially in today’s time with a lot of people divided over certain issues, but when it comes to things like this, it really is heartwarming to see everybody pull together to help each other out.”

The couple planned to stay with Tevis’ mother, who lives near the area, but knowing they would not have access to RV hookups,  Angie and Tevis heard about Bristol Motor Speedway’s offer and ultimately decided to stay in the campground due to comfort.

On their way up, Angie said the traffic wasn’t terribly bad.

“We actually left Jacksonville last night, because yesterday when we were doing some preparations, boarding up the house and all that stuff, the traffic was crazy,” Angie said.

“Some people evacuated yesterday because our area went under evacuation as of, I think, 11 o’clock yesterday morning. So a lot of people immediately took off, but we were still doing preparations so we decided to leave last night ... With the RV, we were blessed to be able to drive a few hours then pull off, get some sleep and then continue our drive this morning.”

Chris, who declined to share his last name due to his nature of work, also arrived at the Bristol Motor Speedway campsite Wednesday evening. Chris said his family was camping near Kerr Lake in North Carolina, which sits between the Tri-Cities and his home in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, when the evacuation notices went out.

Since he has a friend who lives in Jonesborough, Chris decided to make the drive to the Tri-Cities, and on the way, his friend told him about the speedway’s offer of a free camping site.

“I think it’s a great idea because I was camping in a state park, and they closed the park and canceled my reservation. They said, ‘You’ve got to be out by 5 p.m. tonight,” Chris said. “I had planned on staying until tomorrow.”

Chris said his wife had went back to their home in Elizabeth City to work on Monday, but when evacuation notices went out, she packed up their pets and started heading for Bristol.

“I stayed through (Hurricane) Isabel, and we had a tree fall on the house, and I was out rescuing a sheriff’s officer who got himself stuck in a ditch. The kids and wife were at home going crazy,” Chris said. “Staying there through Isabel and having a tree come down on the house and everything else, I decided after that, if it’s a (category) 2 or greater, we’re out of here.”

A similar situation happened to Mike and Pat, a couple from Pittsburgh who were camping in Greenville, South Carolina, when they were told to evacuate.

Although Greenville is located inland, Mike said campground officials were worried about the possibility of Hurricane Florence stalling over the Palmetto State, and because the campground is located in a floodplain, all campers were asked to leave.

Mike said he heard about Bristol Motor Speedway through word-of-mouth from other campers, and decided to make a stop in the Tri-Cities.

This is the second time in the past two years Bristol Motor Speedway has offered its facilities to hurricane evacuees free of charge. RV campers have access to water, sewer and electricity hookups, as well as WiFi. Last year, during Hurricane Irma, more than 100 guests found shelter at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Evacuees can call 866-415-4158 to learn more about camping at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Across from the speedway, the Red Barn Campground is also offering free camping to evacuees.

“We do not have electric, but we do have hot showers and plenty of space for RV/tent camping. Pets are welcomed. Campfires are allowed as well. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those in the path of Hurricane Florence,” a Facebook status from Red Barn Campground said.

For those without an RV or camping gear, a grassroots Facebook page, called Florence evacuation support in East TN/W NC/SW VA is offering to connect evacuees with a place to stay.

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