BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP — Nakayah Fleming, of Atlantic City, was warm, dry and worried as she sat in the cafeteria of the Buena Regional Middle School Monday afternoon.
She and four other family members evacuated Sunday night, but were now trying to stay in touch with two other family members and their children, who had opted to stay in the city and were regretting that decision.
“They thought it wouldn’t be so bad, and now they’re looking for help to get out,” Fleming said.
The Middle School was at capacity, with 152 people Monday afternoon, but the neighboring high school had also opened and at 2 p.m. only had about a dozen people, Red Cross site manager Teena Draper said.
Volunteers were anticipating a last-minute rush of people who had thought they could wait it out but realized they were wrong. Cots were ready and dinner was being prepared.
St. Augustine Preparatory School in Buena Vista Township was accepting people with medical issues and had room for about 40 more evacuees Monday afternoon, shelters workers said.
Pleasantville High School and Middle School were reportedly close to capacity, with about 150 people at each site.
Buena Regional High School and Middle School were pet friendly, with special rooms for cats, dogs and even a couple of rabbits that arrived with their owners.
“We just try to keep them away from the food,” said Draper about the room set up down the hall from the cafeteria at the high school.
Danielle Gargano of Atlantic City said she did want to leave her pit bulls Chopper and Princess, both rescue dogs, behind. But with a basement apartment, she knew she had to leave. She was grateful for the pet-friendly shelters.
“I wasn’t going to leave, but thank God I did,” she said as she gave the friendly dogs some outdoor time at the Middle School. “They are treating them great here.”
Catalina Montealegre, a veterinarian with the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital, said they worked with the Red Cross to make some shelters pet friendly and it has been working well.
Pet owners are asked to bring their own cage, or at least a leash. The site had a few large cages. Owners could spend time with their pets and feed them, and other than one nervous dog that had been separated from the group, the dozen or so pets at the school were adjusting well.
Buena Regional food service director Gina Merighi and some of her staff came in to help prepare food for the evacuees. The Red Cross provided food and the school supplemented with some of their own supplies.
Meals include prepared boxed sandwiches, grilled chicken with mashed potatoes, lasagna and baked ziti.
“The workers are doing 12-hour days, but we enjoy working together and like being able to help,” Merighi said.
Lasagna sounded good to John Tibbrine of Atlantic City, who had evacuated Sunday afternoon.
“I’m glad we got out,” he said. “And I haven’t had lasagna in years. But I do hope we can get back home soon.”