Florence evacuees felt mistreated during time at Wilson High School shelter


FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) – Florence County was hit hard by Hurricane Matthew. Many people were forced to evacuate to an American Red Cross shelter. Wilson High School was one of those shelters—but the people that stayed there felt they were unwelcome and mistreated during their time in need.  Herman Robinson said Hurricane Matthew left him with nothing. His home in West Florence was flooded leaving him, his Grand mom and cousin with no place to go.

His family came to the American Red Cross shelter at Wilson High School.

When they arrived they felt welcome but that soon changed.

“When we first arrived it was a welcoming atmosphere but then it turned into we don’t want you here and we couldn’t understand why. We did everything they asked us to do. We complied and we didn’t complain but the way we were treated, the way we were fed and the way we were kept up it was just uncalled for,” Robinson explained.

Robinson said the shelter seemed unorganized.

They could not shower because the bathrooms were locked. They were given paper towels and a little soap to wash with.

Many people did not have a cot or blanket.

As far as food, they were served Military Meals Ready to Eat (MRE).

Robinson said, “They were more concerned about what they were doing with this school and keeping the school intact then the people who actually needed the help and the relief. It is actually sad because We’re all here because we are in a natural disaster. This is what we are here for, this is supposed to be a safe haven for us and it’s really not it was like a prison.”

“We have nothing and to come here with nothing, that actually kind of hurts,” Robinson adds.

Members from the American Red Cross headquarters were contacted and traveled to the shelter Tuesday. Robinson said corporate members promised to accommodate them before they left.

The Wilson High School Shelter Manager, Charles Jones said the American Red Cross started to prepare for Hurricane Matthew last week.

They anticipated evacuees would travel to Greenville and Columbia—so they sent most of the resources there. When they realized Florence was hit hard—it was too late.

Over 100 people were at the Wilson High Shelter on Saturday. The resources sent inland took several days to come to Florence because of the road conditions after the storm.

Jones said, “We have cots coming. We have a lot of materials and things that are on the way now. It’s coming to this particular shelter. We are going to be working with the Principal of the school here to see about opening up showers—improving conditions here. So, that is in the making now.”

We did receive a response from Dr. Eric Robinson the Principal at Wilson High School.

Dr. Robinson said, “All evacuees had access to bathrooms and showers every day. Custodial staff came each day, even when conditions were not safe to travel, to make sure bathrooms were clean for people to use. Also volunteers brought hot meals to evacuees on several occasions. It was the responsibility of the Red Cross to provide cots and blankets, not the school.

The faculty and staff went above and beyond to make all evacuees feel comfortable. I wish the media would have done a story about how some of the Alumni donated food, or how a teacher came here to bring baby clothes and diapers to a child in the shelter without anyone asking for a donation.  Instead they interviewed one person, who was almost asked to leave by law enforcement, and a shelter manager that just arrived a few hours earlier. I had a real strong working relationship with the previous [shelter] manager that just was released from duty. In spite of what the media produced, everyone was safe and treated fairly here at Wilson High School.”

The American Red Cross decided to consolidate the three shelters in Florence County Tuesday night to one at South Florence High School. Jones said the 25 people left at Wilson High have now traveled to South Florence High School.