For Junette Parkhurst, there was something different about Sandy.
Bob, Gloria and Irene all stopped by for visits in the past, but they were kind enough not to serve up too much inconvenience. Sandy must not have gotten the message. Her destructive self moved along the shore, tearing chunks out of the East Coast.
Parkhurst and her husband, Donald, have been residents at the Bald Hill Mobile Home Park, near the Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep dealerships for the past 54 years. They have taken their chances with every previous hurricane sweeping through the state and came out on the other side perfectly fine each time. Yet, something about Sandy was different.
Perhaps it was all the hype broadcast over the past few days, or maybe it was Parkhurst’s personal fear of trees falling on their home, but Junette didn’t want to take her chances this time around. She and her husband came to Warwick Veterans Memorial High School – ironically the “home of the Hurricanes” – on Monday morning, shortly after 9. At the time, the Parkhursts were two of just three people taking shelter at the high school. The school was full of supplies but low on people.
Three Warwick police officers were standing guard outside. The gymnasium, auditorium and cafeteria were all manned by the American Red Cross. The school gave the Red Cross volunteers a tour of the building, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the surroundings. As of Sunday night, just one person had spent the night on one of the half dozen cots set up in the gym. According to volunteer Robert Smith, the gymnasium can hold up to 250 cots if needed. Smith, who has been with the Red Cross for the past year, served as a volunteer during Hurricane Irene, and knows the importance of shelters during a hurricane.
“Anybody who needs our help is welcome,” he said.
As for how many people they expected to be providing shelter for, Smith was unsure but was confident, no matter what, that they would be ready.
“We are prepared,” he said.
Shelter Manager Beth Walsh, who works at MetLife Insurance on Quaker Lane, is a volunteer but it is company policy to make volunteering painless for its workers and she was paid for her time spent there. Smith, who is retired, helped her set up in the hallway outside the gym, where shelter guests signed in and got settled. Coffee, donuts and breakfast were provided and an abundance of other food was on hand for people who needed to stay there for the long haul. Civil Air Patrol Officer Kyle Dickson of Warwick was also on hand, volunteering any way he could.
As of Monday, Hurricane Sandy had yet to impact Rhode Island in any significant way. Schools, businesses and transportation services were either closed or open at a minimum. The gymnasium at Warwick Vets saw a slight increase around 2 p.m., up to five with still plenty of space left. By nightfall however, 19 people had come by, though only eight of them spent the night.
“A bunch of people left to go check on their homes,” said Walsh.
All of them had gone back to their homes as of Tuesday morning, as the storm had finished passing through the area. The shelter remained open as of Tuesday afternoon, for anyone in the area who still needed its services.
“We are open as long as the town needs us to be,” Walsh said.
The Parkhursts were among the eight who had spent the night, and were glad to see that their home was still intact without any damages the following morning when they returned.
“Everything is fine,” Junette said over the phone, sounding relieved. It looks like Sandy received the message after all.