In the recently closed Arcola Elementary School off of Route 50, roughly 100 cots with crisp white sheets fill the quiet classrooms that once buzzed with the sounds of students. As the days pass and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is still being assessed, Carol Barbe, chief operating officer of the Loudoun County Chapter of the American Red Cross waits to hear if more evacuees will be coming from the Gulf region.
"We are officially up and running as of today," said Barbe last Wednesday, Sept. 7. However, despite the quick response from the local chapter, less displaced people have sought shelter in Loudoun County than originally expected. While shelters across the country have been encountering similar scenarios, the shelter in Arcola will be kept in operation until Barbe can assess whether it is still needed.
"The original 27 people wound down to 14 so we kept them in the hotel," said Barbe.
Originally, the evacuees were set up in a Leesburg Holiday Inn until the shelter was completely ready for operation, but as Barbe and her staff found, there was not an overwhelming demand for space. As it is now, the local chapter of the Red Cross is using donations from local businesses to pay for the evacuees to stay in the hotel, as well as helping them buy the necessities for a comfortable existence.
Although 14 people are currently receiving shelter from the Red Cross, the amount that have been treated by the local chapter far exceeds that number. Barbe estimated that they have helped more than 170 people, the majority of whom found shelter from friends and family in the region.
WHILE THE SHELTER has not been needed, the facilities at Arcola Elementary School are more than adequate and required a large amount of planning and organization from the local community. The building itself, which will eventually become a community center, already had the utilities to support activity. Loudoun County Public School, which moved out of the building in July, donated it to the Red Cross as long as there was a need for a shelter.
"It’s a very unusual situation down there right now and we’re here as long as they need us," said Wayde Byard, public information officer for Loudoun County Public Schools.
With volunteers from all facets, including the medical community, the shelter is capable of comfortably housing up to 100 people.
"We’ve activated our medical reserve corps," said Dr. David Goodfriend, director of the county Health Department, last Wednesday. "There are a couple of questions with occupancy. If it gets close to three digits, we’ll have our environmental health people out here." However, with the lack of demand, there is still no need for that concern.
Equipped with a room of televisions for entertainment and news, the facility is prepared to keep the flow of information to the stranded. There is also a computer lab that offers Internet and e-mail for contacting loved ones. The Department of Parks and Recreation contributed by providing activities in the auditorium for children and young adults and the cafeteria was on stand-by for food donated by local restaurants.
"We can’t take donated cooked food from people but we can from restaurants because its been inspected by the Health Department," said Linda Craft, a volunteer at the shelter.
WITH THE DAYS passing since Katrina, it is hard to assess the future demand for the shelter in Arcola. Should more people come to the county, it is believed that they will be moved to the shelter along with those staying at the Holiday Inn in Leesburg. But until then, the area will remain open and on stand-by.
"We will keep it up and running as to need," said Craft.
However, in this uncertain time, it is impossible to predict when there will no longer be a need.