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Thousands Seek Safety in Red Cross Shelters as Irene Hits the East Coast

Hurricane Irene has driven thousands of people from their homes, forcing them to leave all they own behind as they seek shelter in Red Cross shelters.

Each one of these evacuees has a story to tell about how the storm has affected their lives.On the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Robert and Jennie Culpepper left their home for the safety of a shelter, the rain already falling as they arrived.

“Our clothes all got soaked,” Jennie said as she laid shirts and pants across cots to dry. “We got in late last night and they welcomed us with open arms.” The couple has lived in the Outer Banks, NC, their entire lives. They have seen multiple hurricanes and most times opted to weather the storm in their homes. “We decided to evacuate this time because we had both the President and the governor telling us to leave,” Robert said. “I had to evacuate because I have an injury that keeps me from moving quickly,” Jennie said. “We needed to be safe.”

So the couple packed up their truck and headed inland, where they settled at a shelter in Wilson, NC, where they say they aren’t taking the Red Cross kindness for granted. Jennie has been helping around the kitchen, ensuring there is plenty of hot coffee as the rain and winds pick up outside, and Robert has helped take out the trash. “We feel like the Red Cross has opened up and helped us and we could help in any way by volunteering some time,” Jennie said.

In Rocky Mount, N.C., Florence Topping escaped Irene in a shelter, along with her three great-grandchildren, Tyler, Ny’Mir and Miricah. “When they said we ought to evacuate, I thought I shouldn’t stay, just me and the three babies,” said the 73-year-old native of North Carolina’s far eastern shore. She packed some clothes, bedding, and a few toys for her great-grandchildren and traveled to the shelter by a school bus that had been sent to evacuate low-lying portions of Hyde County.

At the shelter, she found sleeping accommodations for all of them, and meals ready for the evacuees. “They did fall asleep, even with being so excited,” she said gratefully. And when lively Miricah – who turns three this weekend – got restless, a shelter resident sitting nearby began playing a game to amuse her. Despite the unfamiliar surroundings and uncertainty about what she would find when she returns home, Florence sat peacefully, grateful for a safe place to ride out the storm with her precious great-grand babies.

People trying to find a shelter should listen to their local media for shelter locations near them. They can also locate a shelter at, or by downloading the free Red Cross shelter app on iTunes. Those affected by the storm can let friends and family know where they are by registering on the Red Cross Safe and Well website at They can also call a family member or friend with internet access and ask them to do their registration.

Those heading to shelters should bring extra clothing, pillows, blankets, medications, personal hygiene items and important documents. They should remember special items for children infants such as diapers, formulas and toys, along with necessary items for family members who are elderly or disabled. People should not leave their pets behind, but the Red Cross cannot accept pets in its shelters except for service animals for people with disabilities. People should check if organizations are setting up animal shelters. Red Cross chapters have lists of pet-friendly hotels, kennels, veterinarians and animal welfare agencies that can accept pets during a disaster. It’s important to make sure pets are wearing secure collars with up-to-date identification.

If someone would like to help, they can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. They can also send contributions to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.