As Irene strikes, shelters open across county

Monday August 29, 2011

BRATTLEBORO -- On Sunday, as Tropical Storm Irene dumped torrential rains across Windham County, emergency response officials were busy keeping the roads safe, getting people to higher ground, and assessing road and bridge conditions.

Meanwhile, in town halls, schools and churches across the county, emergency shelters opened to help those affected by the floods make it through the night.

The Red Cross opened a shelter at Brattleboro Union High School, and on Saturday, before the storm hit, about 40 people from Westgate and Melrose terrace were setting up to wait out the storm.

David Patnode, who was evacuated from one of the housing complexes, said he had to leave quickly and was still worried about his cats.

Patnode said everyone at the shelter was working together to make the best of a difficult situation until they could return to their homes.

"Everyone here is helping out," he said. "It's people helping people, it feels good."

Along with the official Red Cross Shelter, emergency shelters opened in Dover, Jamaica, Winhall and Wardsboro

Red Cross Spokesman Doug Bishop said more than 200 people were expected to spend the night at a Red Cross shelter Sunday.

Across Vermont, 10 Red Cross shelters were going to remain open Sunday.

"The number has climbed throughout the day and based upon reports coming in, that trend is expected to continue throughout the night," Bishop said. "In addition to the operation of these shelters, the Red Cross is working to meet the many requests received from communities throughout the region for cots, blankets and other supplies for community-run shelters."

He said Brattleboro had one of the busiest shelters in the state, though numbers would not be available until later in the night.

Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley said school would open on schedule Tuesday, even if the high school continues to be used as an emergency shelter.

Stahley was canceling a scheduled teacher meeting for Monday, but said the school would work around the shelter if it remained in place Tuesday.

Rachele Benson, an American Red Cross volunteer, was helping organize things at BUHS Sunday.

Following the floods up north, and then the Brooks House fire in Brattleboro, Benson said the Red Cross was being stretched thin in Vermont.

As the storm passed Sunday, Benson was pulling together the evening's meal and sending volunteers out to pick up food from Chelsea Royal Diner in West Brattleboro.

The BUHS gym was lined with cots and families sat around the multi-purpose room waiting out the storm.

"We're going to be here until every single person here has a place to go to," she said. "I haven't been out all day, but I hear its bad out there, and if anyone else needs a place, then we'll be here."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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