And then there were 42. The Red Cross Regional Emergency Shelter for Montville and residents from other area towns was down to just 42 people last night from 230 with 25 volunteer staff at the height of the storm last night.
The East Lyme Middle School-based shelter's numbers dropped substantially when most of the 60 New London residents—who were relocated to East Lyme from the city's shelter at Winthrop School as Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Monday—returned to the city yesterday.
New London Emergency Management Director Reid Burdick said the Winthrop School shelter was evacuated due to potential issues with the generator that could have included a carbon monoxide leak but may have been a result of other problems as well. Burdick said carbon monoxide was not leaking throughout the building as originally reported and the people in the shelter were never in any danger.
Burdick said a trouble light was tripped in the generator room. He said that could have indicated a carbon monoxide leak, but also could have been a result of mechanical or electrical problems with the generator.
Those sheltering at Winthrop School were just about to eat when the word came that they were to be transfered by bus to East Lyme but they didn't skip dinner. At the East Lyme Regional Shelter, "They were still able to feed all of us in 40 minutes," said Dilly Virgin of Niantic, who originally took shelter in New London.
"This is my first time in a shelter," Virgin said, "and I'm so excited it ended up being such a positive experience."
Virgin said she'd always made donations to the Red Cross, writing out checks never dreaming that she'd one day be on the receiving end of the nonprofit agency's services. Now she says she knows, "my money has been well spent."
Shelter May Downsize After Today
East Lyme Shelter Manager Dawn Davis said that the Red Cross had received lots of support from the community, with donations of food and offers of help from volunteers. Many shelter residents also lent a hand, setting up cots and helping other residents.
The Red Cross volunteer staff includes nurses, EMTs, and mental health professionals, who proved to be particularly adept at handling people with special needs for whom spending three days at a shelter was very disorienting. "That's something that's evolving," said Davis, in terms of how the Red Cross serves its many and varied clients.
Another aspect of the Red Cross shelter services that has evolved based on experience with previous disasters is the decision to make shelters pet-friendly. Waterford-East Lyme Animal Control staff and volunteers, including Jessica Hamilton, who is this year's Connecticut Animal Control Volunteer of the Year, staffed the shelter 24/7 to take care of everyone's pets, which included dogs, cats, and one hamster.
Security at the shelter is provided by officers from police departments from all the towns the shelter serves: Montville, East Lyme, Old Lyme, Lyme, Waterford, and New London.
The shelter may downsize after tomorrow as the number of people in need decreases, so that East Lyme Middle School students can return to class. How the shelter will be reconfigured and possibly relocated has yet to be decided, Davis said.
For today, however, the shelter at East Lyme Middle School remains open to anyone who needs it, offering beds, hot meals, water and refreshments, hot showers, opportunities to plug in and recharge electronic devices, and perhaps most importantly, good company and a very warm welcome.