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Lonely, but needed

February 19. 2013 2:55PM
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They spent hours assembling nearly 100 cots that went largely unfilled, but volunteers at the emergency shelter set up by the American Red Cross in Wilkes-Barre were not complaining Tuesday.

The shelter, located at GAR Memorial High School, was set up to handle 98 people. At its height, it housed 37 on Monday, of which 28 remained at around 4 p.m. Tuesday, said Mina Hontz, a volunteer with the agency's disaster unit.

Turnout also was less than expected at four other Red Cross shelters as the widespread storm damage and power outages anticipated in Hurricane Sandy never materialized for most areas in Luzerne County.

The agency closed the shelter at the Wyoming Area Secondary school Tuesday afternoon, but planned to keep the shelters located at GAR, Luzerne County Community College, the Dallas Middle School and Hazleton Area High School open until at least today, Hontz said.

The LCCC shelter housed 13 people on Monday, and reached 16 as of late Tuesday afternoon, Hontz said. The Dallas and Hazleton centers had only one person on Monday, but had reached five people Tuesday afternoon, she said.

It's getting colder, and those without power are starting to find us, she said. We'll have to see how things are by (Wednesday). Maybe everyone's power will be back and we'll start closing up. If not, we will stay open.

At the GAR shelter, volunteers said the set-up took considerable work.

Light turnout OK

The lower-than-expected turnout did not mean the effort was for naught, said volunteer Beth Shillaber, who ran the shelter center with fellow volunteers Fred Spatt, Chris Mizenko and Barbara Stahl.

This is a blessing, Shillaber said. I'd rather have no people than a lot.

The light turnout was a welcome relief compared to the September 2011 flood, Shillaber said. She worked at a shelter at the State Street Elementary School in Larksville that housed 203 people.

I was up 24 hours straight for four days. I didn't sleep at all, she said.

Setting up the cots, which are made of canvas over metal frames, is the most difficult part of the job as they're not very user friendly, the volunteers said. Fortunately, they had lots of help from people like GAR junior Mary Minnick, 17, and several other school volunteers.

Normally, it takes three to four hours. With the kids, we had it done in 1 ½ hours. It worked out wonderful, Mizenko said.

Minnick helped out at the shelter during the September 2011 flood as well.

I like to do it because I have a nice place to live and I think everyone should. No one should be left behind, Minnick said.

At the LCCC shelter, volunteers had set up about 50 cots in the in the school's gymnasium. Volunteers with the American Humane Association also set up numerous cages in a separate room to handle dogs, cats and other pets.

Lightning, a 4-year-old mixed-breed dog, turned out to be the only pet guest as of Tuesday afternoon.

We definitely anticipated more, said AHA volunteer Cindy Williams, who traveled from Kansas City, Mo., to assist in Luzerne County. You guys definitely dodged a bullet here.

Pet owners appreciative

Their efforts did not go unappreciated by Lightning's owners, Evelyn Schmeisser and Stanley Siglin, who evacuated the Wilkes-Barre apartment they share.

Schmeisser said she was happy she didn't have to leave Lightning behind.

I was afraid we'd lose power and wanted a safe place to go with the dog, she said.

She got to go home around 10 a.m. Tuesday after confirming power was back on.

Hontz said the Red Cross will evaluate operations Wednesday to determine how much longer the four remaining shelters will remain open.

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