By: Erika Fernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
November 22, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Seeking refuge was the reality for thousands who flocked to Tallahassee during Hurricane Irma. They filed into shelters like the one at Chiles High School. Most of them had nothing but the clothes on their backs.
"I was received like I was the queen of Egypt,” said Niurka Lopez, who evacuated to the capital city from South Florida.
Lopez was living in Miami-Dade, but with Hurricane Irma creeping towards her home, she needed to get out.
"I took my two cats, got in my car, went to Jacksonville, Florida. I was watching the weather, went to Gainesville, and then I decided I’ve never been to Tallahassee, that's the capital,” Lopez said.
Chiles High School was just one of 11 shelters in Leon County that housed over 500 people. They provided beds, food, and water to the evacuees.
"So much love and warmth. Anything that we needed," Lopez continued.
They even had games for children, helping them feel at home while the horror of losing their own lingered in their minds.
"It’s an unsettling thing to be in a strange place, a strange city,” said Sharon Tyler with the American Red Cross.
Tyler helped coordinate hundreds of volunteers that stepped up during Hurricane Irma.
“When you have people that are willing to give themselves and reach out and help others, it makes all the difference in the world. It's truly neighbor helping neighbor. They're coming into people that are going to be their friends and caretakers, and people that have left their home and left their comfort to come take care of people," Tyler said.
Niurka recalls the damage that Irma had on her home.
"It was horrific, I talked to my family and friends and they said, stay there, get settled. Things are really bad here," Lopez said.
Just two weeks after Irma passed, Lopez found a new place to rest her head.
"I walked in the door and I felt, 'It's home.' I just knew that this was it."
She believes fate brought her here, but it was something else that truly changed her life.
"The compassion and the love and the unity that we had, it was amazing. Everything in life I found from a stranger," Lopez said.
Strangers like the volunteers who helped people like Lopez feel safe in a time of desperation.
"Thank you, Jesus, because I’m home," Lopez said.
Lopez wants to give back to the community that helped her during the hurricane. She plans on helping out at the animal hospital that treated her sick cat, and becoming a volunteer for the American Red Cross.