Area residents hunker down at emergency shelter

091318 Hurricane
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Yolanda Cooper, a Elizabeth City resident originally from Manhattan, New York, gets her comforter ready for bed at the American Red Cross' emergency shelter at the K.E. White center, Wednesday evening. The Red Cross opened the shelter ahead of Hurricane Florence's expected arrival in North Carolina, now forecast for sometime Friday afternoon.

091318 Hurricane

By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Despite bad memories of Hurricane Isabel, Robert Batteiger said he and his wife, Tina, are staying positive ahead of Hurricane Florence’s arrival.

The Batteigers were among the people checking into an emergency shelter at Elizabeth City State University on Wednesday. At least 30 people were waiting to check in before the shelter opened at 5 p.m., American Red Cross shelter supervisor Carol Watkins estimated as they sat in the back lobby of the K.E. White Center.

Batteiger said his family lives in a mobile home in a flood-prone part of Weeksville, in southern Pasquotank. He fared alright through Hurricane Matthew two years ago, but he remembers Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which downed trees and power lines.

Florence is expected to make landfall in North Carolina sometime Friday afternoon and, rather than risk being trapped during or after the storm, the Batteigers decided to seek shelter.

Batteiger said he doesn't know what property damage to expect when he goes home, but "we don't think negative ... we just think everything's going to be OK."

Patricia Snowden also lives in Weeksville, and she said she was entering the shelter with her husband, daughter and mother- and father-in-law. She's only lived in Weeksville for about six months, she said, and she came to the shelter out of caution.

"Just to be on the safe side," she said.

Preparing herself for the potential of a long stay in close quarters, Snowden said she was keeping her phone charged, and planned to spend a lot of time talking with family and praying.

The Hernandez family, of Elizabeth City, also came to "make sure we don't get hurt," Cesar Hernandez said, translating from Spanish to English for his mother, Adriana. Cesar also said his father and brother were with them, as was a cousin from Washington, D.C.

Patricia Johnson said she was "kicked out" of her rental home in Hertford. The area floods easily in normal rainfall, let alone a hurricane, so her personal care aide helped her get over to Elizabeth City. She noted she was disabled and was dealing with a lot of health problems.

Thinking about the storm, she said she was "worried real, real bad."

A family of renters who live off Ehringhaus Street in Elizabeth City are also hunkering down at the shelter. Keeping their three young children occupied, the father said their yard floods constantly, so they're worried "the downstairs won't be livable" when they return from the shelter following the storm. They moved most of their downstairs belongings upstairs, he said.

To keep his children occupied at the shelter, he brought coloring books and toys.

Watkins and a shelter organizer, Nate Granger, said the Red Cross has to offer shelter occupants a "no frills" facility at first, providing minimal space and requiring them to rely on their own bedding. They have to plan as though the shelter will be fully occupied, meaning as many as 350 could be there, they said. If no one else comes to the shelter after the storm, however, Watkins said they could provide occupants more space and cots.

Watkins said the Salvation Army is seeing to everyone's meals, and snacks will be available 24 hours a day. There will also be games and coloring books for children, he said.

"We can usually keep children preoccupied," he said.

Granger also said an Elizabeth City police officer will be present at the shelter to ensure order. Having a law enforcement presence is a standard precaution, he said.

If the shelter loses power, Granger said the Red Cross will rely on ECSU and emergency officials to get backup power running.

Asked about the potential for the shelter itself to flood, Granger said no one thinks that's a realistic scenario. He said Edgewood Drive near the back entrance to the K.E. White Center might wash out, but other entrances should remain accessible.

Wednesday's forecast projected Florence will bring winds of up to 40 mph and four to seven inches of rain to the area, according to local officials.