— -- One family from Jacksonville, Florida is feeling “very grateful” to have a stranger’s shelter over their heads in New Albany, Indiana, after evacuating from the storm, despite driving more than 750 miles to get there.
Xeryus and Letroi Miller, along with their two children, two dogs and Xeryus Miller’s brother, were running out of options for a place to stay out of Irma’s path of destruction, until they came upon Brandon Thompson’s Airbnb listing much farther north than they ever imaged they’d have to travel.
“We were searching for days,” Letroi Miller, 28, told ABC News of the difficult time they had finding a place with room for them. “At first we were going to go to Atlanta because it’s not far from Jacksonville. We looked on Airbnb but we couldn’t find anything. Everything was gone and anything that was available, the prices were really, really high. It was also really hard because we have our two dogs with us, but we weren’t going to leave them behind.”
She said they continued to search for Airbnb listings in Alabama, Tennessee and even Kentucky, but “couldn’t find anything” so that’s how they ended up in Indiana. Now, they are thrilled with their decision.
Thompson, owner of the dance studio So IN 2 Dance, located below his condo where the Millers are staying, waived the cost of his Airbnb listing for the exhausted family.
“They said things were kind of tight with them not knowing what was going to happen, and he’s in the Navy, he’s military, so it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Thompson, 40, said. “I was in a position where I could do it easily, and I knew it would make a big difference for them. It just felt right.”
The fee for the three-night stay was supposed to be $692 for the Millers. They are overcome by Thompson’s generosity and said his two-bedroom condo has “been awesome,” especially for their young children who both have autism.
“We were so happy. I was speechless to be honest,” said Letroi Miller. “It’s absolutely beautiful, it’s very comfortable. He made our day. We are very grateful to be here. The kids love it, the dogs love it.”
The Millers said they are tentatively planning to drive home to Jacksonville on Tuesday, but are playing it by ear depending on the weather.
“Hopefully when we go back to Florida it won’t be that bad,” she said. “I’m praying. This is overwhelming.”
They’re also still recovering from the “terrible” drive trying to get out of Florida.
“It was very, very hard for us. I don’t know how we even made it. We were so tired,” she added. “Our kids are special needs so they were just over the whole thing. We had to keep constantly stopping at the packed gas stations. People were laying on tarps in the rest areas. It was crazy. The gas stations were shutting down and people were running out of gas, but luckily we made it.”
On Sept. 7, Airbnb activated their Disaster Response Program to aid people forced to evacuate their homes, as well as relief workers arriving to provide assistance, due to Hurricane Irma.
“Through our program, people in need of temporary accommodations can connect with hosts who are offering their homes free of charge from now through September 28,” Kim Rubey, Airbnb Director for Social Good, wrote in a press release. “We are proud to see the Airbnb community come together to help their neighbors in need.”
Since the program’s activation, it has been expanded from Florida to also include portions of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. The Miller family was unaware of the program while doing their search.
“Through Airbnb's Disaster Response Program and good Samaritans like these Indiana hosts, we're inspired by countless acts of generosity from our host community opening their homes and their hearts to those in need,” Ben Breit, spokesperson for Airbnb, wrote to ABC News about Thompson’s hospitality.
Other businesses such as hotels and RV parks have also opened their doors to evacuees trying to escape Irma’s devastation.
The Barnyard RV Park in Lexington, South Carolina has a flea market on site that they used for additional parking during the recent total solar eclipse, “so we figured we could easily do it again,” manager Christina Hunter told ABC News.
“I feel bad for them,” she said of the evacuees. “They’re desperate and they’re worried about their homes and stuff, but for the most part, they are very upbeat honestly, and taking it day by day.”
Hunter said opening the additional space for those affected by Irma was “what we wanted to do.”
“We didn’t want them to be left out in the rain,” she said. “Everything around here is full. We knew we could do what we wanted to help. We’re watching the news and it’s just sad. We wanted to help in any way that we could.”