Wendy Stanley is grateful.
She and Lee Palumbo, who live just outside the Loris city limits near the hospital, saw the roof of their home be ripped off when Tropical Storm Florence struck the region. Having nowhere else to go, the couple was forced to sleep in their truck and hope for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We were homeless for six to seven days,” Stanley said, recalling her small dog Roxygirl jumping on her chest, trembling, waking her up the morning of the damage.
She grabbed a suitcase with a few items and ran out, remembering cutting off the power in her home.
“I didn’t know what to do. It happened so fast,” she added. “We’re lucky we didn’t get electrocuted.”
Having lost their home, the two heard about the Midtown Inn and Cottages at 8th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, which has offered guests impacted by the storm several free nights. The inn, owned by Jaret Hucks, has also served its inhabitants three meals a day and helped with giving supplies.
“These people were sent from heaven,” Stanley said. She said Hucks’ family even gave her some clothes.
Hucks, the owner and a Conway native, wanted to give back to his community and called his offering over 1,000 free nights so far simply helping out family and friends. The business itself has 52 rooms in the motel portion and another 15 cottages.
“It blew my mind at how bad it’s gotten,” he said of damage and flooding from the storm.
Hucks said he posted on Facebook the offering of the free lodging and things took off, with donations coming in droves of things like cleaning supplies and food items.
“It is unbelievable,” he said.
A room serving as a pantry stocked full of items is available for a guests. A team has also been able to receive wish lists and find donations. Many local restaurants also brought in donations and entertainment as well as free passes so guests can visit attractions. Some have brought things like bouncy houses for kids to enjoy.
The hotel has had more than $10,000 donated that Hucks hopes to help guests with security deposits and utility bills.
Midtown’s staff has been able to utilize a refrigerated truck courtesy of A&A Produce, which has helped with the intake and dispersal of donated items. Hucks is also able to use warehouse space where perishable donations can be refrigerated.
He said people have been checking out each day and the business is still receiving calls of people in need of lodging.
During the offseason, Midtown typically has seven employees as opposed to 20 during the peak season. Guests staying there free have volunteered to help around the establishment and Hucks recently hired one as a housekeeper.
As of now, staff trying to transition into offering weekly rentals for about $200 or so a month, which is normal during the offseason, and making sure guests are taking charge toward their situations.
“A lot of people are paying something they feel comfortable with,” he said of evacuees. “That’s all we’re really asking.” He added that he does not plan on forcing anyone out of Midtown due to inability to pay.
“What I'm really looking for is people who are being proactive about trying to do something,” Hucks said.
He plans on offering free stays as long as possible and it is needed, working on linking those staying with agencies and resources. He said he has worked with real estate agents who have supplied him with lists of rental properties in order to help find guests permanent living.
“This is temporary,” he said. “[We] want to find them a home.”
Some vacationers from out-of-town came to stay this past weekend in some of the rooms and cottages.
As of Sunday, about 200 guests were staying at Midtown, with Hucks estimating 350 had stayed at one point. Staff has even let pets stay at the business, including a tortoise named Skull and a squirrel, Mr. Squeakers.
While many guests saw their homes flooded, some were simply cut off from them, Hucks said.
Many kids have stayed at the inn, and could be seen playing outside Saturday night as songs like “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone could be heard from the former Pavilion site. The music caused some to dance in the parking lot as dusk arrived as others could be overheard swimming in the motel pool.
Joliana Barnes took her favorite stuffed animal she named Zebracow with her when the family was forced to relocate out of their partially flooded home near Peachtree Landing in Socastee.
The 6-year-old made sure to use her manners, and said she missed the trundle bed she shared with her siblings.
“He just genuinely has gone above and beyond,” the child’s mother Josephine Monserrate said of Hucks. She hoped to be able to move back into the home soon.
Having their kids play outside and not have to worry about the ordeal was comforting, she said, but compared the experience to grieving.
“Right now I’m just at acceptance, and I’m making plans to move forward,” she said.
“They’re good people,” said Maie Rine, who lives on the S.C. 707 corridor. “They help people. They feed you. They let you have a room free. They care for everyone.”
Rine’s three roommates fled her home before the storm came and she ended up losing most of her items after several feet of water crept into her residence. “I lost it all,” she said. “You name it, I lost it.” Though she prefers her home to the room, she remained thankful to the inn’s staff and liked getting to meet other guests.
Some guests dragged on cigarettes or rocked in chairs outside the business’ front office
While Florence brought devastation to parts of Horry County, it also gave some residents a fresh start.
Rebecca Childers’ family evacuated to the Camden-Lugoff area, staying with her brother for eight days and returning to find their home ruined.
Childers saw the roof of her North Myrtle Beach townhouse she’s been living in with her 5-year-old son Braydon and husband Kado Workman cave in when the storm came and lost the home.
“It’s been scary,” she said. “There was days I just didn’t know what to do.”
The family sought refuge at Midtown on Sept. 19.
This past Sunday, though, the family was able to leave, moving to a home they found back home in Lugoff.
“We have to start all over,” she said.
Like other guests, Childers said inn’s workers have gone above and beyond with kindness. She said the staff loaded up the family with things like paper towels, cleaning supplies and dishes to take to their new home.
Because of what happened to their home and due to the storm, the couple was out of work. But as they start over from the Midtown, Childers was able to transfer to a nursing home near Camden and her husband is able to return to his old job at Fort Jackson.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Maybe God intended me to go back.”