After a smaller group came to the American Red Cross Hurricane Shelter at Hampton Bays High School on Sunday evening to stay the night, the shelter really filled in on Monday, as storm surge from Hurricane Sandy flooded streets and homes and high-speed winds took out trees and power lines.
Volunteers from the local community and farther afield — led by American Red Cross shelter managers Scott and Sherry Wheaton, a husband-and-wife team from Flanders — opened the shelter to the public at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. It wasn’t until the afternoon that evacuees started to pour in, and that night a little less than 80 stayed at the high school, Scott Wheaton said.
Then on Monday, as the storm rolled into town, many more evacuees rolled into the shelter. Wheaton said there were 320 sheltered overnight Monday. “Most of them have left at this point, some of whom may be back,” he said Tuesday during lunchtime.
He said that how many return to the shelter depends on what condition evacuees find their home in, and whether the power comes back on.
“It’s a crap shoot,” Wheaton said. “I honestly don’t know how many people we’re going to get tonight.”
But no matter what happens, Wheaton said, the volunteers will be prepared to take them in, and to keep the shelter open for as many days as it takes. He noted that social workers and health workers are on site to help families who cannot return to their homes for an extended period of time find alternative housing.
There were about 55 to 75 evacuees served lunch Tuesday, Wheaton said, including a few who did not stay overnight Monday, but first arrived at the shelter Tuesday morning after riding out the storm at home.
The evacuees stayed in the school gymnasiums on cots supplied by the Red Cross. There are sections for individuals, and for families with kids.
“We’ve had everything from a mother in labor to people in their mid-80s,” Wheaton said. The mother was brought by ambulance to Southampton Hospital Monday afternoon to give birth.
About half of the evacuees are children, and about 80 percent of all evacuees were there due to a mandatory evacuation order, according to Wheaton. The remaining 20 percent evacuated voluntarily.
The Red Cross supplies breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks, thanks to donations, and volunteers who run the cafeteria and prepare the food, Wheaton said.
Sue Lennon, an employee of Whitsons, the company that provides food services for Hampton Bays High School, is volunteering her time at the shelter.
Lennon said after the last couple disasters on Long Island, she wanted to get involved in relief efforts. “I wished I was helping in some way,” she recalled.
Many Hampton Bays teachers, office staffers and custodians are giving their time, Lennon said, and other members of the community as well. Hampton Bays Civic Association President Bruce King and wife Nancy were among those helping in the kitchen.
The youngest volunteer is 11-year-old Nicole Roman, a sixth-grader at Hampton Bays Middle School. She said she has been helping by serving food — chicken, rice and peas for dinner Monday — cleaning the cafeteria, and escorting evacuees from the registration table to the gymnasiums. Her mother, Julianna Roman, is a special education office secretary for the school district, who is also giving her time. Helen Schottenhamel, who works in accounts payable for the district, volunteered in the cafeteria as well, just as she did during Tropical Storm Irene.
Whitsons donated 900 sandwiches, Panera donated bread — which was served Monday and also used for French toast at Tuesday’s breakfast — and local pizzerias Scotto’s and Francesca’s donated pies.
“This whole operation has been a real community effort,” Wheaton said. He added that the Red Cross and Hampton Bays High School have had a "fantastic partnership," and noted that Hampton Bays School District Superintendent Lars Clemensen was there lending a hand.
Since 7:30 p.m. Monday, the high school has been without power, and the shelter has been operating with generators.