One year ago, Hurricane Irma was barreling down on the Gulf Coast. After laying waste to homes and businesses throughout the Caribbean, the storm had been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane. It was still deadly, though, and as the Florida Keys were battered, the water rose in Miami, and the storm took square aim at Marco Island some 6.3 million people were told to evacuate across the South, including Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Among the crowds leaving Naples, FL were Justin and Elisa Ross and their two dogs. They couple needed a safe, dry place out of Hurricane Irma’s projected path of destruction, but they weren’t sure where to go until inspiration struck in the form of a song, which ended up leading them to safe harbor.
According to a heartwarming story in the Johnson City Press, the Ross family were stuck in traffic when Justin, a musician, started thinking about songs. Specifically, he was thinking about Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and its lyric about “heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee.” As the Johnson City Press points out, the song’s lyrics aren’t exactly accurate as Johnson City is actually east of Cumberland Gap, but the lyrics gave Justin an idea of where to take his family and he headed north to Johnson City. There the Ross family found a city welcoming Hurricane Irma refugees with open arms.
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When the Ross family rolled into Johnson City, Justin spotted the front page of the Johnson City Press with the headline, “Tri-Cities offers shelter from Irma," which lead him to a Facebook group set up to help Irma evacuees, just like him.
The group was set up by Kiran Sing Sirah and Ren Allen to help people in need. On the Facebook page, the residents of Johnson City were sharing available rooms and offering supplies for people who left everything behind as they rushed to escape the path of the hurricane. The group quickly grew to over 1,100 members as the community chipped in to help their neighbors in need. According to the Johnson City Press, people as far away as North Carolina and Virginia were logging into the group with offers of everything from spare rooms to hot meals, and laundry services. The mayor offered up a spare room and a local trampoline park even offered up their trampolines for people to sleep on. In short, the town was rolling out the welcome mat and the Ross family were more than happy to take them up on the offer.
The Ross family and other Irma evacuees stayed in Johnson City as the hurricane came and went and utility workers down in Florida worked to get the power, gas, and water turned back on. Soon enough, the Ross family was heading back to Florida but grateful to the town of Johnson City—and the song that lead them there.