Although more and more people are celebrating the restoration of power in their towns, many residents have gone several days without electricity.
For those who cannot remain in their homes, two regional shelters, one in Plainfield and one at the Senior Center in East Lyme, were offering people beds for the night.
“Right now we are still open, with plans for lunch and dinner and for residents tonight,” said Sue Baillargeon, the Red Cross shelter manager in East Lyme. “Most people are able to go home at this point but we’re not closing yet. The next phase will be to support the recovery.”
At the height of the storm, the Red Cross gave 52 people a bed for the night at the East Lyme Middle School. With school just days away from starting, however, the shelter has since relocated to the Senior Center. On Tuesday, 14 people from as far away as East Haddam were sleeping on cots and couches at the East Lyme Senior Center.
“People had so much warning but they didn’t think it would happen to them,” Baillargeon said, expressing surprise at how many people didn’t heed warnings to stock up on water, batteries, and nonperishable food items before the storm.
“We’ve seen everything from families with children, old folks, a lot of people who live alone, and very many special needs folks,” Baillargeon said, adding that there is a medical staff person at the shelter.
Montville resident Josephine Engel said she called the Montville fire chief requesting transportation to the nearest emergency shelter the day before Hurricane Irene hit. With one grandchild and two great-grandchildren staying with her at the time, she didn’t want to take any chances. Engel spent the first two nights at the emergency shelter set up at Montville High School but when that closed, she was transferred to the regional shelter in East Lyme.
“The people have, all of them, been nothing but the greatest to us,” said Engel. “The staff has been exceptional.”
Engel’s 33-year-old granddaughter and her two children, ages 7 and 9, have since returned home to Norwich but, without power or phone service at her home in Montville, Engel opted to stay at the shelter.
Phyllis Pardy of Uncasville also requested transportation to a shelter before the storm hit. Like Engel, she spent the first couple of nights at the high school before being transferred to East Lyme. Pardy depends on electricity to run her oxygen generator, so she can’t stay at home without power. She said finally got a good night’s sleep on a love seat in the TV room at the senior center last night but she, too, had nothing but praise for the Red Cross volunteers.
“They are the unsung heroes,” Pardy said. “They treated us very well.”
For the volunteers, it’s been a true test of endurance. Baillargeon spent the first two days working round the clock managing the Stonington shelter. She had just enough time to return home to Montville to wash her hair with water from the garden hose before reporting to the regional shelter at East Lyme.
“We did what we had to do,” Baillargeon said, adding that it helps to have a sense of humor in times like this. “For the most part, everybody weathered the storm pretty well.”