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Florida family evacuates home, moves to Sumter

Hurricane Ian forced Aimee Boots and her family to evacuate their Florida home and move to Sumter earlier than expected. Now, her new community is helping out.

SUMTER, S.C. — The Sumter community is rallying around a family who has lost everything to Hurricane Ian

Aimee Boots and her family were already planning to move from their home in Pine Island, Florida to Sumter when Hurricane Ian forced them out earlier than expected.

"If I don’t laugh or something, you know, I’m gonna cry about it," Boots explained. "We were watching the storm and we were like, “Are we gonna leave? Are we gonna leave? Are we gonna stay?"

When they woke up to an evacuation notice, they headed to Sumter even though their house wasn't quite ready. 

They brought about three days worth of clothes with them. 

Now, that's nearly all they have left.

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To prepare for the move, the Boots family had packed up all their belongings in a storage facility. 

"The roof ripped off and a lot of the contents, if not all of them, is gone," Boots said. "Our whole three bedroom house was packed inside of that crate and at this point we don’t know what is left if anything."

Everything from their beds to clothes to her 7-year-old son Alex's medical records were damaged. 

"My son doesn’t have anything anymore. He was very upset when we tried to explain to him, you know, the toys, the clothes, your stuffed animals unfortunately these personal items…it’s gone," Boots said.

Unsure of what to do, Boots logged on Facebook to see if there were second-hand stores in the area. She asked in community groups about where she should go. 

Instead of recommendations, she found support from her new neighbors.

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"They need everything. They need dish soap, they need sponges, a lot of people don’t think about hot pads, so there’s a lot of items that people could start picking up now, hold onto them, and then as soon as we know they’re in their house, then they don’t have to worry about replacing a whole household," Sumter resident Valli Finney told me. "They need beds, they need sheets. I mean just look at your house, and if you have it, they don’t."

Finney jumped into action to collect donations as soon as she heard about the Boots family.

"I knew how bad it was down there," Finney said about Florida. "I feel hopeless because it’s just not safe for people from outside the area to try to make it down there to help people right now and so at least it gave me a little bit of hope that I could help someone or at least organize help for them."

That help is much appreciated, Boots says.

"It’s hard because of the reality of everything setting in," Boots said. "And of course my son has been very upset, so it’s really just…the kindness that she showed not knowing me and us not actually living here is just unbelievable."

Not only is the family missing essentials like clothing and household items, but they are now dealing with damage to the home they were hoping to sell in Florida.

"We’re going to be paying two mortgages and we’re trying not to fret over that right now and deal with the insurance company," Boots explained. "But I told my husband, I said ‘I don’t know what we’re gonna do when it comes to that point."

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For now, Boots is doing her best to stay positive. It's glimmers of hope like what she's seen from Finney, who she called her "angel", that's getting her through this dark time.

"A lot of people think Sumter doesn’t have a lot going for it, but I tell you what, the people who are rallying around and helping out, they’re fabulous," Finney shared. "We have a lot of good people in Sumter."

And those people are still working to collect donations. If you'd like to help out, you can email Finney at vallimfinney@yahoo.com with the subject line "IAN".

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