DADE CITY, Fla. — As Hurricane Florence churns closer to the east coast, Florida is a likely destination for evacuees. One Tampa Bay area woman is offering a helping hand through an unexpected way.
Up in the Carolinas and Virginia, it's preparation and evacuations as Hurricane Florence grows closer.
"It's just so scary, I feel horrible for them," said Nicci Velocci, owner of Hilltop Equestrians.
That preparation is also happening here in the Bay. Velocci is opening the doors to her Dade City horse farm to four-legged evacuees. A Facebook post inspired her to help. It all started when veteran neighbor, Dan Billiott, pled for help. He wrote that his soldier nephew in North Carolina is trying to evacuate but his plans stalled because of his horses. He couldn't figure out where to house them.
"I just thought 'Gosh is there any way I can help?'" said Velocci.
Velocci made room for the animals and extended her invitation to four other families and counting.
"It's not like a dog putting them in a crate and throwing them in the back of your car and driving," she said.
Velocci understands more than most. Just last year, she was in the same position during Hurricane Irma. But Velocci couldn't evacuate because all her horses had nowhere else to go.
"It was terrifying, it was absolutely terrifying," she said.
As at least one family makes its way to her farm she's reaching out to other neighbors and asking them to help evacuees in whatever way they can.
"We're always the ones getting hammered. So I feel thankful that I'm in a situation where I can help others in need," she said.
Billiott expressed his thankfulness, saying in a statement:
"We are extremely grateful for the care and consideration of all the resident Floridians and their experience with hurricanes, to reach out to my family in need during this time of emergency."
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Agriculture has suspended some requirements for animal evacuations due to Hurricane Florence. The state and federal government restrict the movement of livestock, like horses, to prevent the spread of animal-borne disease. The lab testing, called the Coggins test, is currently not required to evacuate the animals to Florida.