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Charlotte Area

New Friendships, Resiliency Reign In Hurricane Shelter

Officials at American Red Cross shelters set up to house people during Hurricane Florence are still busy registering local residents and those who evacuated from coastal areas. More than 360 people registered at the various area shelters by Thursday night, 55 at East Mecklenburg High School.

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Brenda Drakeford (l) of Charlotte and Denise Cook (r) of Jacksonville, both former nurses, wait out the hurricane at East Meck High

The East Mecklenburg High shelter is one of 12 that the Red Cross is operating in the region, all offering the same services. People of all ages came to East Meck from Wilmington, Rocky Mount and other areas threatened by Hurricane Florence. The school’s gym has rows of beds lined up, with blankets and other supplies. Red Cross spokesperson Jerri Jameson says they can accommodate 150 people at this site.

Registrations are ongoing and pink wristbands have to be worn by those staying at the shelter. Jameson says the first questions they ask people is if they have any special health needs.

“We have nurses with Department of Public Health who are here staffing it 24/7,” Jameson said. “So if people have medical needs or didn’t bring enough medications and need replacement medication, we have nurses who can assist with that, eyeglasses and things like that.”

Credit Gwendolyn Glenn
Friends Jimmy Ross (l) and Ben Gibson (r) of Monroe, NC wait out Hurricane Florence at East Meck High Red Cross shelter

The shelter provides people with snacks and beverages around the clock and three meals are served. They also have a separate kennel area for people who come with pets.

People are free to come and go but they have to sign in and out. In front of the gym, several people are outside smoking or just walking around. Leaning against the building, Jimmy Ross says he drove to Charlotte from Monroe.

“We live in a trailer and I was involved in Hugo and I don’t trust hurricanes,” Ross said. “I have two younger brothers, Brian and Timothy Ross and a friend of mine Ben Gibson (are with me).”

Gibson says he came because he could not find a place to wait out the storm in Monroe.

“They didn’t have no shelters for people to get into so I came up here,” Gibson said. “To tell you the truth I was homeless, living in a tent.”

Around the corner of the building Brenda Drakeford and Denise Cook, both former nurses, just met and seem to be fast friends. Cook, an amputee, drove from Jacksonville and had no idea where she would stay when she arrived on Wednesday.

“My son found this place and said get here right away and we were the only ones here,” Cook said. “It was just me, my daughter and mom and dog and cat and they opened up arms and said come on in. It was wonderful.”

Drakeford nods in agreement. She lives in an apartment by herself in Charlotte and came here because of health concerns.

“The police took me here,” Drakeford said. “I have numerous health issues and I don’t have anybody in case if I fell. I had a heart attack last year and a pacemaker and I’m considered physically disabled.”

With the police parked outside the shelter 24/7, Drakeford and Cook say they feel safe and have slept well here. With the uncertainty of the storm, some people admit to being a bit anxious, but like Drakeford and Cook, they are forming new bonds and exuding a sense of resiliency as they wait out the storm.