Workers prepare area shelters

Published 1:57 pm Friday, September 3, 2010

Staff Writer

CHOCOWINITY — As Hurricane Earl approached the North Carolina coast Thursday, Blackhawk Fornelli had his hands full preparing Southside High School for a possible 200 temporary residents.
Fornelli acknowledged it was unlikely the school, one of two designated emergency shelters in Beaufort County, would host the maximum number of evacuees, but he and other volunteers had to ready the facility for the full number just the same.
Fornelli, a shelter manager for the Greater Pamlico Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, was asked if he’d stay at the school for the duration of the storm.
“Unless it gets to be a Category 5,” he joked. “Then everybody’s gone.”
That moment of levity was balanced by the serious work being performed by five Red Cross volunteers, seven Salvation Army volunteers, two registered nurses to handle basic first-aid measures, five officials with the Beaufort County Department of Social Services and others.
By mid-afternoon, the shelter’s temporary “staff” already had gone through a variety of tasks ranging from erecting folding tables to sandbagging some doors in case of high water.
Fornelli and his cohorts said they hoped those precautions wouldn’t be necessary if Earl stayed far enough offshore, but, with the storm’s exact path still uncertain, precautions ruled the day.
In one of Southside’s hallways, Fornelli and fellow volunteer Holly Whitaker busied themselves setting up one of 200 cots arranged alongside locker bays.
“This is why we do what we do,” Whitaker said.
Fornelli’s crew had readied cots for 25 people — and were on hand to set out more if needed.
Fornelli, who’s retired, has seen more than his share of storms — including Hurricane Katrina — over 30 years working in disaster relief.
“This one just happened to be in my backyard,” he said.
Ticking off a list of requirements, he referred to the shelter’s prescribed “quiet time,” which runs from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m., and indicated he hoped Earl would stay quiet, too, as it charged north.