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East Columbus shelter moved to Whiteville as water rises

Revised on: 09.17.2018 at 05:16 p.m.

Posted on: 09.16.2018 at 12:16 p.m.

by Diana Matthews

dianamatthews@nrcolumbus.com

The Red Cross shelter at East Columbus High School closed Saturday night as water began flowing into the building. More than 40 shelter residents moved to the Whiteville Recreation Center, along with about 20 Red Cross volunteers.

Chance Vogel, shelter manager, said that the residents had to leave behind cots and food as they were evacuated by school activity bus. During an evacuation, “You can only bring what they tell you to bring,” he said. It would be difficult for anyone other than the National Guard to go back to ECHS and retrieve the items left behind, Vogel thought.

A Bolton woman, who declined to be quoted by name, complained that conditions at the rec center were “pitiful,” with “no power, no nothing,” but she also said “The Red Cross is taking care of us the best they can.”

Vogel said that another “six or seven” people arrived at the rec center later that night, brought in by emergency technicians after a water rescue in St. James. By Sunday afternoon, over 70 more had come through the center, many going on to shelter elsewhere.

One of the individuals rescued Saturday night was Aaron Laforte. He described the situation in the north of the county as “scary” as water “kept coming” and rose to the level of the rescuers’ Jeep windows. “There were snakes in the water,” Laforte said.

Shelter manager Vogel is a trained emergency technician and has stepped in to do whatever has become necessary at his location. “I would do it anyway,” he said.

The recreation center is located off of Maultsby Street south of Edgewood Elementary School. Vogel said Sunday that donations of bedding and non-perishable food would be welcome, “but we don’t want people to go out of their way and take risks.”

A donation of bottled water arrived Sunday morning, and Columbus Regional Healthcare System donated blankets. Although the building lacked electricity and other comforts, Vogel and his staff worked to make it as comfortable as they could for the evacuees. By Sunday evening they had received some donations of fruit, snack foods and bedding. By Monday a generator was powering the building.

Georgia Harrelson of Delco described her experience. “It’s been rough. That was a bad hurricane we had. Thank God I have a home to go back to.” Her house is “not in a flood area,” she said, but she had reported to the ECHS shelter when told that Delco residents were under evacuation orders.

“Thank God we all made it through alive,” she said.

Richard Hendren, a shelter resident, was helping Vogel “any way I can,” he said Sunday. “My family is in health care, so I’m used to helping elderly people, changing diapers,” and generally assisting people who can’t take care of themselves.

ECHS School Resource Officer Maurice Devalle praised the school’s principal and custodian, both of whom had worked tirelessly to provide for evacuees, getting a generator restarted when it quit and driving the residents to Whiteville in the school’s activity bus.

“The Red Cross didn’t bring food,” Devalle said, “so (principal Jeremiah Johnson) let us use the school’s food. Ms. Ladelle drove the bus.” With willing volunteer help from Hendren to deal with some messy jobs, Devalle said, “It’s been a great team effort.”

Hendren said the evacuation from ECHS to Whiteville was dramatic, with “water pouring over the road” on Hwy. 74/76, and the bus full of shelter residents and volunteers passed travelers who were less fortunate than they themselves were. “There were people sleeping in cars parked by the side of the highway,” he said.

Columbus County Sheriff’s department personnel escorted the evacuees to Whiteville, Hendren said, and he thanked the deputies, as well as probation and parole officers, Whiteville Police, and other law enforcement people, for helping shelter residents.

Officer Devalle said Hendren had helped defuse a tense situation during a generator breakdown Saturday night at ECHS by breaking into prayer. “They’re still talking about your prayer,” he told Hendren.

“There’s water on the floor here,” Hendren said, and everyone was operating “wide out” on “limited sleep.” Some residents were complaining about sleeping on the floor and many were worried about the homes and belongings they had left behind. Still, Hendren said, “It could be worse.”

Chase Vogel, Red Cross shelter manager, stands at the entrance to the Whiteville Recreation Center with Richard Hendren, one of the residents, who has helped care for elderly evacuees during the storm.

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