Alum Jean Flewelling Work During Hurricane Irma
Alumna Jean Flewelling '68 worked at the East Lee HS Emergency Shelter outside of Fort Meyers, Florida during Hurricane Irma. We are grateful that Jean and her husband survived the hurricane. Below is the message she shared with Rosemont about her experience.
Now that I am home, I wanted to share about IRMA beyond hastily written texts at the shelter.
First, thanks for your loving prayers and support. We are and will be fine! Irma decided to go west and our Lee County was walloped!
I worked at the East Lee HS emergency shelter Friday early morning until we closed it down late last night (Monday). The school was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane storm and, for the most part, it did.
We registered or pre-registered over 5000 people, of which eventually 2460 moved in and stayed. Also, about 450 people with special needs. Add EOC (Emergency Operations Center) people like me + school staff + animal services + National Public Health Service + Army National Guard and County police, etc and our grand total was over 4300, way above capacity. Plus about 415 animals (dogs - cats - birds - rabbits, etc).
Having the Army National Guard working side by side with us was fabulous, as well as knowing the Lee County Sheriff deputies were just 2 rooms away! Their very presence gave us workers a sense of peace and shielded us from any anger, frustration or stress that people were feeling. At the slightest signs of disruption, they were right next to us, sometimes joined by a few Lee County Sheriff deputies.
Sadly, by mid-Saturday, with heavy rain coming down and the winds whipping up, we had to turn many families away, even if they had pre-registered, as there was no room. They had waited too long, hoping they would be able to hunker down at home. Fortunately, we could direct them to 4 other shelters the County had just opened.
Many/most moved in with mattresses! I brought my yoga mat -- terrible choice, but I wanted John to have the air mattress at the house to hunker down in the laundry room. Not much opportunity for me to sleep anyway and, except for swapping my sneakers for Adidas pool shoes, I slept in my regular clothes to be on the ready. I did get to use an empty USPHS cot on Saturday night. Everyone got lunch and dinner in the cafeteria all days and breakfast Saturday and Sunday. The Dept of Health and the US Public Health Service tended to the special needs people and Lee County Animal Services cared for the animals in the huge car workshop/classroom.
Once the winds passed 35 mph on Saturday -- about 10 pm -- we were on lockdown with front door the only way in and Army guys stationed at the others.
Our shelter lost power and running water and the lift station failed Sunday afternoon after we went to standby power. The entire County was under mandatory lockdown from mid-afternoon Sunday to early Monday morning. 10 pm was curfew, enforced by Rock, the school's ROTC instructor, who boomed his way down the hallways!
Lots of people came forward offering to help. On Day 1, a woman 8 months pregnant just started cleaning bathrooms, said she likes to clean and her favorite room to clean is the bathroom! We made sure she had supplies to help her out. She was one of the last we admitted and I think this was also her way of expressing thanks.
Many high school kids came to us to volunteer -- they were terrific and did anything and everything we asked. Some worked 10 hour shifts! Those 18 and over could work in the kitchen. Others helped by monitoring hallways to keep passages clear, finding little ones who wandered, clearing tables, mopping floors, collecting trash, cleaning bathrooms, working as translators, etc etc. Help was limited to high school or above but one 6 year old boy was so forlorn when he couldn't don an orange volunteer vest and wear a volunteer tag that we asked him to come back and detangle the tags!
Frankly, I was so busy at grand central station that I barely noticed the storm. If there had not been a TV on the opposite wall and in the sheriff's office, I would have known very little. Shortly after the Caloosahatchee River got sucked dry and the TV showed people walking on the river bed, we lost power, that was around 2 pm Sunday. Probably a good thing, as we were in the right part of the hurricane's eye.
John is okay and our house was spared except for loss of some panels of our pool screen. Water came within 10' of the garage doors but did not breach the house. It is hot. Power is out but we do have running water -- I choose running water any day! All in all, very lucky! We feel blessed.
Please continue to pray for the people of Florida as we recover from this massive event. Many did not fare as well as we did.
Love and hugs!
Jean and John