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Storm shelter at Smith School good drill for disasters

Volunteers from the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts pack up cots early Tuesday morning outside Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School where an emergency shelter had been set up for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy. From left are  Michael Patashnick, Judith Marcinowski and Jerome Imhoff.
KEVIN GUTTING

Volunteers from the American Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts pack up cots early Tuesday morning outside Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School where an emergency shelter had been set up for those displaced by Hurricane Sandy. From left are Michael Patashnick, Judith Marcinowski and Jerome Imhoff. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

Shelter manager Ellen Patashnick said that while shelter resources were not “taxed to the max,” the setup was “a good drill” for future disasters.

“It’s better we were prepared,” Patashnick said. She said she remembers well the hundreds of people who used Smith Voke as a safe haven for multiple days after last year’s Halloween snowstorm left wide swaths of the region without electricity.

“We have more organized scheduling now and a better understanding of what each agency can and can’t do,” said Patashnick, who lives in Springfield. “We had no problems. It was smooth, smooth sailing.”

By 8 a.m. on Tuesday, only one or two residents remained at the regional shelter. Volunteers were beginning to pack up cots and supplies and clear up after a breakfast of Cheerios, oatmeal, fruit, granola bars and coffee.

Jose Olivera, a truck driver from Homestead, Fla., was standing outside the main building talking to family members on his cellphone.

Olivera said he had delivered a load of building materials in South Hadley on Monday afternoon but was unable to continue on his routes due to highway closings in Connecticut and other parts of the East Coast.

A call to the Red Cross led him to the shelter at Smith Voke.

“I want to leave today,” said Olivera, whose rig was parked in back of the school. “Truck drivers don’t get paid if we don’t drive.”

Smith Voke remained closed to students Tuesday while shelter volunteers prepared for a 1 p.m. shutdown. The school was scheduled to reopen today.

Jon Shecter and Michael Skaletsky, both juniors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and members of the college’s Medical Reserve Corps, arrived around 7:30 a.m. to volunteer for the morning relief shift.

Conditions at the college were fine overnight, they said.

“We were mostly waiting around waiting for school to be cancelled,” Skaletsky said.

Dave Barnett, a Belchertown resident and member of the Amherst Medical Reserve Corps, was one of a group of six volunteers who had been at the shelter since it opened at 11 p.m. Sunday.

“We had a light load but plenty of supplies,” Barnett said. “This was not a big disaster, but we were prepared.”

Barnett said he spent much of Monday night playing with two or three young children staying at the shelter. “Our objective was to try and tire the kids out,” he said. “It was a very warm, fuzzy experience.”

Across the parking lot in Smith Voke’s Building B, Nanette Clark of Chesterfield and Mike Regish of South Hadley were staffing a separate shelter for pets run by the Hampshire Emergency Animal Response Team.

While they had no takers, the pair said they were also well prepared, with heat lamps available for reptiles and fish and training in dealing with traumatized animals.

Clark, who is in her 80s, said other volunteers encouraged her to try and go home to Chesterfield around 4 p.m. on Monday.

“I got to Williamsburg and that was OK,” she said. “But then on Route 143 there was a tree on the road and the wind was much worse. I said, ‘Well, I was safer at the shelter.’ I called my children and said, ‘I’m back’ ” at Smith Voke.

She spent the night on a couch while Regish slept on a cot in the hallway.

Regish pointed out that last year’s storm involved colder temperatures and therefore more need for the pet shelter. “We dodged a bullet this time,” he said.

Clark stressed that the regional shelters for both animals and humans will be up and running as needed this winter.

“This is our shelter and we will be here again,” she said.

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