Mathews County’s storm shelter to open tonight; Gloucester’s tomorrow

BY SHERRY HAMILTON - Posted on Aug 26, 2011 - 05:42 PM

Photo: Members of Mathews County's Emergency Operations team met at the sheriff's office Friday afternoon for a teleconference with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on the threats posed by Hurricane Irene. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

Members of Mathews County's Emergency Operations team met at the sheriff's office Friday afternoon for a teleconference with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on the threats posed by Hurricane Irene. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

Photo: The National Hurrican Center released this tracking image of Hurrican Irene at 5 p.m. Friday.

The National Hurrican Center released this tracking image of Hurrican Irene at 5 p.m. Friday.

Local officials are recommending that residents who live in low-lying areas of Gloucester and Mathews subject to flooding from Hurricane Irene evacuate by noon tomorrow, when conditions are expected to deteriorate.

Mathews County is opening a shelter at Thomas Hunter Middle School at 8 o’clock tonight, hours earlier than originally announced, because tropical storm force winds from Hurricane Irene could begin as soon as dawn tomorrow.

Gloucester is opening a shelter at 8 a.m. Saturday at Peasley Middle School, 2885 Hickory Fork Road, but ask that residents only use the shelter if they have no other option.

Mathews Sheriff Danny Howlett said winds will be damaging and that coastal flooding equal to Isabel is expected, along with widespread power outages.

“I urge you to plan now to evacuate the county, particularly if you live in low-lying areas or in a manufactured home,” said Howlett.

Mathews emergency services coordinator Dave Burns said that 24 hours of sustained tropical force winds and the possibility of the storm surge occurring along with high tide are the primary threats to the county. High tide is expected at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Residents who plan to stay at emergency shelters should bring medications, bedding, drinking water, eye glasses or contacts, non-perishable food, and special dietary foods. In addition, bring special items for babies, the elderly, or special needs people, as well as entertainment such as reading materials and games for children.

In Mathews, pet cats and dogs will be welcome in a special area of the school, said Howlett. Pets should be in pet carriers if at all possible, and owners should bring food and bedding for them. Dogs must have a rabies certificate or tag in order to enter the shelter.

Jane Wenner with Gloucester Emergency Services said that pets would only be allowed at the Gloucester shelter as a last resort. She asked that residents first try to make accommodations at a hotel and suggested trying the website www.pets-allowed-hotels.com.

Mathews Volunteer Rescue Squad chairman Ron Lambert said that rescue crews will be on duty at the squad building during the storm but won’t be able to respond to calls when wind speed is above 50 mph. Howlett said that all emergency services will cease if winds reach or exceed 50 mph.

A release on Gloucester County’s website emphasized that emergency officials will be unable to assist in rescue or life-threatening situations when flood waters are three feet or higher on roadways and when winds reach 50 mph.

State offices in Gloucester, Mathews and other areas potentially impacted by the storm closed at 3 p.m. by order of Governor McDonnell, and he urged private businesses to do the same. McDonnell said Irene is a significant storm and urged Virginia residents to take the storm seriously and prepare for evacuation if necessary.

Howlett said, “This is a very dangerous storm. Take action now to protect yourself and your property.”

Reporting by Charlotte Crist