Thomas Hunter Middle School proves a safe haven for humans and pets

by Charlotte Crist - Posted on Aug 31, 2011 - 03:26 PM

Photo: Inside the multi-purpose room at Thomas Hunter shelter, families try to sleep during a long night. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

Inside the multi-purpose room at Thomas Hunter shelter, families try to sleep during a long night. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

Photo: Pets were welcomed at the Thomas Hunter Shelter and nine of them were brought in by their owners out of the storm. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

Pets were welcomed at the Thomas Hunter Shelter and nine of them were brought in by their owners out of the storm. Photo by Charlotte Crist.

A hurricane by any name is a disruptive force, capable of changing lives, property, geography and the infrastructure and economics of the communities it touches. One of the most difficult decisions humans in the path of a hurricane are forced to make is whether to evacuate their homes.

When Mathews County emergency officials decided to open their shelter at Thomas Hunter Middle School Friday evening, 12 hours earlier than first planned, they knew there was a possibility no one would show up until the storm arrived the next day. But at least they would be erring on the side of safety.

And, according to JoAnn Wilson-Harfst, director of Mathews Social Services, it was the right thing to do.

"Forty-seven residents made the decision to come in early to the shelter," she said. "Many of them only spoke Spanish and it was a bit difficult communicating with them, but despite the language barrier, they knew the school would be a safe haven from the storm."

A mother and two children were forced to come to the shelter Saturday afternoon when a large tree crashed through one end of their home in Hallieford, a reminder of the risk involved in making the decision not to evacuate.