Hurricane Florence Evacuees Find Refuge In Airbnb Homes At No Cost
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Evacuees from Hurricane Florence had a handful of choices when they left their homes - stay with family, stay in a hotel, stay in a shelter. And for a few-hundred others, there was this option - stay in an Airbnb for free.
Airbnb activated its Open Homes program. It encourages hosts to offer short-term housing at no charge to people who've had to flee because of disasters, conflict, or for people traveling for medical care. It's an idea that started up after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Earlier today, we spoke with A.J. Kleinheksel. She lives in Augusta, Ga., and she opened up her home to Noah Walker, his wife and their dog. They had fled their home in Wilmington, N.C. A.J. Kleinheksel, welcome to the program.
A J KLEINHEKSEL: Thank you.
CORNISH: And, Noah Walker, thanks for being here.
NOAH WALKER: Thank you for having me.
CORNISH: So, Noah, can you talk a little bit about the decision to evacuate? Were you thinking, where am I going to stay? And what was the kind of calculus in figuring that out?
WALKER: Well, we decided that we were going to evacuate. I guess we left Monday of last week. And at that point, we didn't, you know, know where the hurricane path was headed. We just knew it was going to hit Wilmington. So originally, we went to just north of Atlanta. And then some storm projections had the storm hitting Atlanta, so we ended up in Nashville for, like, the past four or five days.
CORNISH: That's a lot of driving. I've made that drive.
WALKER: It is a lot of driving.
CORNISH: And, A.J., I understand you have done this before - right? - opened up your home after a hurricane. When did you decide to do it this time around?
KLEINHEKSEL: We had a really great experience last year when Hurricane Irma came through, if you can call it a great experience, just meeting really wonderful people and feeling like we were helping. When Hurricane Florence kind of came on the radar, I immediately went on to the Airbnb site and signed our home up for the Open Homes program again.
CORNISH: And is there anything that you do to try and make it more comfortable - right? - for people like Noah and his wife? And, Noah, I understand you have your dog with you as well. But is there anything you try and do that you wouldn't do otherwise because people are fleeing under such circumstances?
KLEINHEKSEL: Oh, absolutely. We try and invite people over for dinner if they're up for it and make sure that they understand that they're welcome, that they're not a burden, that we're really happy that they're there. We try and, you know, make sure they have water and coffee and kind of some little things that would hopefully make them feel a little bit more like they're at home.
CORNISH: And, Noah, I know we're putting A.J. on the spot here. Are you feeling that right now?
WALKER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I've had a great experience here. We joined them for dinner last night when we got in, which was great, and I got to meet her family. So it's been as close to home as we can hope.
CORNISH: A.J. Kleinheksel, how long do families typically stay with you after a natural disaster or storm?
KLEINHEKSEL: Usually not for more than a few days. People are usually pretty anxious to get back home as soon as they're told that they have access.
But last year, we ended up having 12 people at once because people had thought they would just come for a day, and then they couldn't leave for safety reasons. And so we had another family coming in, and we just kind of rearranged the kids' bedrooms to make space because you obviously can't send people away.
CORNISH: Oh, so you have kids, too?
CORNISH: It's a real full house.
KLEINHEKSEL: It is. But my kids think it's great.
CORNISH: Noah Walker, What is your mind on now as you - you've got a good place to stay for the next couple of days?
WALKER: Just to try and put it out of our minds as best we can. I mean, it's hard to keep thinking about it. So we've just - are going to try to enjoy our time here as much as we can and check in with friends and family and people who are also trying to get back home.
CORNISH: I can hear the dog in the background.
CORNISH: This is a stressful time for everyone.
CORNISH: Well, I wish all of you a happy and calm couple of days in the aftermath of this storm. And I very much appreciate you speaking with us.
KLEINHEKSEL: It's my pleasure.
WALKER: Thank you.
CORNISH: That was Noah Walker and A.J. Kleinheksel. A.J. Kleinheksel opened up her home to the Walker family when they evacuated their home in Wilmington, N.C.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.