By John Mullen

During normal business hours, you’re not likely to run across a pet in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Daphne.

“We don’t normally allow pets,” manager Steven Peacock said.

This past weekend was anything but normal. Evacuees from Florida seeking safe shelter from Hurricane Irma started arriving on Friday. On Monday morning, Baldwin County EMA director Reggie Chitwood said every hotel in the county was full during the weekend.

“All of our hotels have been full for several days and most of our campgrounds,” Chitwood said. “That started happening Friday. We have 44 dedicated campsites [at the Baldwin County Coliseum] with hookups for RVs, and we’ve got 20 of those filled.”

And in Daphne, there were lots of puppies roaming around the Holiday Inn.

“We have all kinds of neat dogs running around everywhere,” Peacock said.

The welcome mat was out all over Baldwin County for those fleeing the storm. Beach condos and other vacation rentals were near capacity as well. On the beach, several companies and properties also waived rules on pets.

Peacock said when guests had to be turned away from the Holiday Inn, he sent them to shelters.

“We have a list of the shelters in the area we were giving people when we were sold out,” Peacock said. “The one in Robertsdale and the Gulf Coast Maritime Museum in Mobile.”

The Baldwin County Coliseum in Robertsdale was the main facility, and Chitwood said 435 people were housed there.

“Everybody’s comfortable, they have everything that they need and the outpouring from the community has been outstanding,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for any better operation.”

The Red Cross is in charge of the Robertsdale shelter during most emergency events, Chitwood said.

“Our memorandum of understanding is with the Red Cross to handle our shelter in an event like this, a non-wind event,” he said. “This is considered a non-wind event because we’re not actually under the hurricane activity.

“We turn it over to the Red Cross and they do what they do and they’ve done an outstanding job with it. Myself, Sheriff Hoss Mack and the commission, we’re just supporting them.”

In case of an overflow crowd, Chitwood said, the Red Cross had already made plans to use the Fairhope United Methodist Church. The coliseum can shelter 2,000 people comfortably, and up to 5,000 in emergency situations.

“I don’t think we got to that point,” he said.

Statewide, Alabama made all its state park campgrounds and parking lots at parks available to those fleeing the storm. And where there are lodges in state parks, pets were allowed, with the normal pet cleaning fee.

“We will waive our cancellation policy and refund guest deposits for any of our patrons who have existing overnight reservations for the coming week, or next weekend [Sept. 15-17],” Greg Lein, Alabama State Parks System director, said.