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Florida evacuees staying at Midtown shelter: ‘Bless you all for helping’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Eric Gerhardt didn’t have room for much when he and his mother packed up and left their home in the Tampa area Thursday.

“Gas was nowhere to be found. There were water shortages. Shelves were completely cleared out at Walmart and grocery stores," he said.

So he and his mother, Mary Anne Gerhardt, headed north from Clearwater in separate cars. They thought they’d stop in Tallahassee. But when they got there, Irma changed course. They made a decision.

“I drive Uber for a living. I had to leave my car in Tallahassee. I had to ditch it because of the fuel shortages,” he said. “We continued north. So many gas shortages there. We hardly made it. So many cars broken down on the side of the road,” he said.

He called the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help. They referred him to Tennessee authorities, who told him about a Red Cross and Shelby County CARES shelter at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on Bellevue Boulevard in Midtown.

The shelter provided them with hot food, showers, clothing and television.

Oneka Richardson volunteered at the church throughout the weekend.

“This gives us the opportunity to expand service not only to city of Memphis but now to our brothers and sisters coming here from other parts of the country,” Richardson said.

“Bless you all for helping," Mary Anne Gerhardt said. “If it wasn’t for them we’d be sleeping in our cars. We don’t have the money to stay in hotels.”

They explored some of Memphis Sunday, including the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid.

They said they didn’t know how long they’d stay in Memphis; they wanted to wait until power came back on in the Tampa area.

They worried.

“What’s going to happen when we go back? What are we going to go back to?” Mary Anne Gerhardt said.

“It's a mobile home so that’s doing to be probably destroyed, peeled open like a tin can," Eric Gerhardt said of his home in Clearwater.

But they were grateful for a place to stay for now, out of harm’s way. They hoped others could learn from their lessons of disaster preparedness.