Shelters, Charlotte Motor Speedway open to Irma evacuees

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The mass exodus has already started -- drivers are headed anywhere to get out of Hurricane Irma's path.

“We're pretty close to the water, so we didn't want to be in the way of it,” Katie Smith said.

Sammy Lomanto drove from Central Florida to escape the storm. He stopped in Atlanta first, but he couldn’t find any place to stay. Then, he made it to Charlotte.

“We ran into tons of gridlock,” Lomanto said. “Literally for four hours, we didn't go more than 25 mph."

Charlotte's emergency management team is working to designate even more shelters.

Among those shelters could be the Spectrum Center, Convention Center or Bojangles Coliseum.

A Salvation Army shelter Channel 9 went to is already full, but officials are scrambling to make room for more evacuees.

The director said if the shelter has to, it will make space on the dining room floor. It is still trying to get cots and other supplies so they won't have to turn anyone away.

 "We've been working with our city and our county," the director said. "They called on us and asked us that if the storm does hit Charlotte can we not have a turn-away policy, can we find capacity in the shelter?"

The Charlotte Motor Speedway is also opening its campground to Hurricane Irma evacuees.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway campground is so enormous, there's room for thousands of evacuees to weather the storm.

All the open space could also become incredibly dangerous when the storm barrels in.

"We'll need anyone that's on our property to be weather aware," Charlotte Motor Speedway spokesman Scott Cooper said.

[Flights to Charlotte, hotels fill up as people escape Irma]

“We are happy to open our doors to help those needing a place to seek shelter during this difficult time,” said Greg Walter, executive vice president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We look forward to showing them the hospitality for which we’re known and they deserve. We are fortunate to have camping available to accommodate both hurricane evacuees and the drag racing fans who will join us next week.”

The 14-acre campground is free for families that can't afford to pay for a place to stay.

"We decided just to get in the van, take everything and board up the house," Vero Beach evacuee Matthew Cox said.

Crews are also taking down flags and banners.

They're hauling away benches and anything else that the storm could blow into someone.

Officials are monitoring trouble spots on the speedway as well.

There's a creek that feeds into Rocky River across from the speedway

It's susceptible to flooding anytime there's a lot of rain.

Security officers are circling the grounds today to learn the lay of the land.

They picked the highest ground to hold weary evacuees.

"We're places people associate with having fun, so hopefully coming to a place that is known for something other than what they're escaping will be a benefit to them and make them feel better," Cooper said.

If the conditions get too dangerous, the Speedway will send warning alerts through its phone app and siren system.

Workers said they’re prepared to go from car to car to check on people.

The speedway is opening the campground a week early for evacuees.

For those planning to use the campground, please use Entrance Z. Campers will have access to the bathhouse facilities.

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