Last updated: February 19. 2013 2:45PM - 625 Views

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Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, the American Red Cross opened five emergency shelters Monday in anticipation of widespread power outages from Hurricane Sandy.

With relatively light rainfall and winds, turnout at two of the shelters, at GAR Memorial High School and Luzerne County Community College, was light as of 4:30 p.m. Officials expected occupancy to increase significantly in the evening, when the brunt of the storm was expected to hit the Wyoming Valley.

It really depends on if there are widespread power outages or if the creeks and streams go over, said GAR High School Principal Colleen Robatin as she stood inside the school's empty gymnasium at around 2 p.m.

Charles Thomas, 53, of Wilkes-Barre, was the sole storm refugee in the shelter at that time. He still had power at his home, but decided to go to the shelter as a precaution.

My apartment's all electric, he said. You can't take a chance.

In Nanticoke, Red Cross volunteers set up about 50 cots, with another 50 on standby, inside the gymnasium at LCCC. Two other rooms were being set up to handle cats, dogs and other pets by volunteers with the American Humane Association.

Tracy Speelhoffer traveled from Silver Springs, Md., to join several other AHA volunteers in readying the rooms for the pets. The volunteers are specially trained to handle pets' physical and emotional needs, she said.

Storms can have a big impact on an animal's demeanor. They pick up more than people think, Speelhoffer said. They're not used to this environment.

The Red Cross has made a concerted effort to make shelters pet friendly, said volunteer Jenn Kruppo of Nanticoke.

A lot of people won't leave if they can't take their pets, she said

Four-year-old Mackenzie Doris of Plymouth was oblivious to all the preparations going on around her at the shelter as she played dress up with her Halloween costume.

We're having a party! she exclaimed as she pranced around in her princess costume, then sat down to watch some cartoons.

Lori Hulse was among four Red Cross volunteers who helped set up the LCCC site. She had assisted the agency at a shelter Dallas during last September's flooding, and was hopeful she would not see a repeat of that experience.

I was there for four days non-stop, she said. I don't think I ever stopped, but it was so rewarding. You really have people come together during disasters.

The Red Cross also set up shelters at the Wyoming Area Secondary School in Exeter, Dallas Middle School in Dallas Township and Tunkhannock Area High School in Tunkhannock.

The shelters were expected to remain open through at least Tuesday and possibly into Wednesday or later, depending on the amount of storm damage.

Check www.timesleader.com at any time for the latest updates.

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