It’s noon Saturday. One shelter is filled, another opens to accommodate up to 200 people and pets. An eastbound bridge to Seaside closes.
Hurricane Irene’s winds have yet to arrive.
For just a couple minutes, Toms River Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Daley is on his cell phone, talking to Patch.
“We are in survival mode right now,” Daley said.
He sounds frustrated. There are still people in mandatory evacuation areas have yet to leave. Residents from towns other than Toms River are beginning to descend on the evacuation shelters; other townships are asking to send buses here.
“We just don’t have the capacity,” he said.
Intermediate North has limited food, compared to the shelter at Toms River High School North, he said. He advises those seeking shelter at the intermediate school to arrive with provisions. “Bring food and pillows,” he said.
Should a third shelter need to open, it would be Toms River High School East, Daley said. There are 13 sites in town emergency responders can prepare as shelters. Right now, two are in use.
His first suggestion is to seek shelter outside of town with family and friends, or in hotels elsewhere.
Once the hurricane shelter cots are filled up, evacuees will begin to line the hallways, he said.
“At that point, comfort ends,” Daley said. “It’s just survival.”
Toms River Regional School staff has been called in to help at the shelters: custodial, cafeteria, administration staffers, he said.
How long can someone expect to stay at the shelter?
No one is allowed to leave until the storm is completely over, said Marie Anne Cocolicchio, Red Cross instructor called in to help with disaster.
What if there’s no home to go back to?
Officials are now addressing what could unfold should large numbers of residents be displaced from storm damage, Cocolicchio said.
“It’s still unclear what will happen,” she said. “They will not be immediately displaced from shelter.”
The damage has yet to come; effects on homes, property still uncertain.
Daley however points to the National Weather Service’s prediction of record flooding.
“The flood-prone areas of town need to evacuate,” Daley said. “We all know where that is, these places have always flooded.”
At a regional meeting with police, fire, EMS, lifeguards, mayors, elected officials, school and hospital representatives, utility officials and township staff at Toms River police headquarters at 10 a.m. Friday, planning for the worst case scenario was underway.
Those present urged each other to consider: how to address 10 foot swells at high tide; how to deal with residents who failed to leave in the mandatory evacuation; how to stay safe once winds reach 50 miles per hour.
Was there enough gasoline and diesel to stock emergency vehicles? When would eastbound roads contraflow to westbound traffic?
For nearly two hours, those in the room gave status updates on where they were at and what they needed, what was in place now and what would unfold.
Many scenarios were discussed. An evacuated barrier island could welcome looters, some said. Others wondered if the Cranberry Inlet would reappear near Ortley Beach should waves, flooding and high tide overtake the barrier island.
We asked Daley: is this alarmist? Are these things really a possibility or just planning for every scenario?
“We talk through so many things; you can’t overplan,” Daley said after the meeting. "You have to keep planning, stay two days ahead."
Everyone was mobilized. So many were doing their part. Volunteers, employees, different levels of government, he said.
The mayor pledged township updates on the municipal television channel and website, with alerts sent to the press.
Others said backup plans were in place should power go out, should cell phones fail, should radio go down. Emergency plans would continue to unfold as orderly as possible, whether pre-storm, evacuation, during storm and post-storm.
Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher had confidence in the team working to keep Toms River and its residents safe.
“We were founded in 1767,” Kelaher said after the meeting Friday. “We will still be here. We will get through this.”