Harrison County

They left for Mobile to escape Irma, but ended up in Gulfport, all for their dog

The McGinley family, Andreas, Tula, their dog Carter, and Jonathan, enjoy a peaceful afternoon in Gulfport. The family left Seminole, Florida, early Friday morning to escape Hurricane Irma.
The McGinley family, Andreas, Tula, their dog Carter, and Jonathan, enjoy a peaceful afternoon in Gulfport. The family left Seminole, Florida, early Friday morning to escape Hurricane Irma. jclalrkl@sunherald.com

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has recommended more than 5 million Floridians evacuate their homes as Hurricane Irma is expected to hit early Sunday morning.

And with the possibility of millions seeking proverbial higher ground, many have headed to South Mississippi. On Saturday, vehicles with Florida tags were everywhere — from U.S. 90 to Interstate 10. The head of the Mississippi Hotel Motel Lodging Association, Linda Hornsby, said hotels are almost full from “state line to state line.”

But not everyone who is leaving Florida is searching for a hotel. Some evacuees are looking for a place where they can bring their pets.

Stevie McGinley and his family decided Friday morning that it was time to load up and seek shelter outside of Irma’s path. But he couldn’t leave the family’s beloved dog, Carter, behind.

“Carter is five, and my son named him after Lil Wayne,” McGinley said.

He said the family left out of Seminole, Florida, which is on the state’s west coast near Tampa, at about 5 a.m. Friday. His wife, Tula, booked them a room in Mobile. But the place would not accept pets.

“We hit some very heavy traffic, especially north of Tampa Bay, so we got to Mobile around 6 p.m. on Friday,” McGinley said. “We found a hotel that would let us bring Carter, but it was only for one night.”

On Saturday morning, McGinley said he as looking for a house to rent in Mississippi.

“There are four of us, including our sons Andreas, 26, and Jonathan, 25, and Carter, so we were looking for a cabin or something,” he said. “Plus, we don’t know when we will be leaving because we don’t want to leave too soon, so I called the first place listed on Trip Advisor.”

Getting to Gulfport

The place happened to be the Lily House, which is the 2nd Street rental home of Gulfport Economic Development Director David Parker.

“I got a call around 6:30 a.m. from a family wanting to rent the house,” Parker said. “So we discussed it and made the arrangement.”

Parker said he suddenly had a change of heart.

“I decided I couldn’t rent the house to evacuees, so I told them to come on and stay with me for free,” he said.

What’s next?

The McGinleys rolled into Gulfport about noon on Saturday.

“We were there for Hurricane Charlie, and I knew we didn’t want to do that again,” McGinley said. “Once we saw that the storm was moving even further west, we knew we had to go.”

He said he doesn’t know what’s next for his family.

“Our original plan was to head home Wednesday, but we’re not certain when we will be leaving,” McGinley said. “We’re just happy to be safe in Gulfport and we can’t believe how kind and generous David Parker is being to our family.”

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