Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hundreds Swarm to Region's Shelters; Differing Reviews on the Accommodations as People Try to Make Do

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hundreds Swarm to Region's Shelters; Differing Reviews on the Accommodations as People Try to Make Do

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

The sprawling field of cots in both the gymnasium and cafeteria at Atlantic Coast High School spelled out just how ominous the approach of Hurricane Matthew was on the First Coast as the region braced for its arrival.

The high school gym served as a shelter for special-needs residents, while the cafeteria was a shelter for the general population.

Between the two groups, nearly 400 people were trying to find comfort and protection. Most arrived at the school off Baymeadows Road and Interstate 295 on Thursday.

"It's kind of scary," 17-year-old Kenan Zelihic said as he tried to get some rest on an air mattress in the gymnasium. "Honestly, you don't know what's going to happen.

"You know, is it going to be a big flood? I've got family and I want to make sure everyone's safe," Zelihic said. "I'm here just for our safety. I don't want a lot of people dying."

Richard Bush said the mobile home park where he lives off Philips Highway was almost certainly in peril.

"I've been here since 11:30 Thursday night," Bush said. "This is my first time in a shelter.

"Jacksonville doesn't experience a whole lot of hurricanes and this one is so high in intensity, a Category 3 or 4, and those mobile homes just can't take that kind of abuse," Bush said.

While the shelter was becoming increasingly crowded Friday morning, officials managing the site were keeping residents calm.

'WE'RE GETTING CAUGHT UP ON THINGS'

John Gagen is the Atlantic Coast High shelter manager for the American Red Cross. He arrived in Jacksonville Tuesday after being called in from his home in Battle Creek, Mich. He's had experience in many disasters before and said the Atlantic Coast High scene was orderly.

"We're getting caught up on things. We've got food and no one here is starving to death. We've got plenty of food," Gagen said. "I'm trying to keep them all happy with what I have and what I supplied them with.

"It's hard to get a supply truck in here right now because of the weather," Gagen said. "We need blankets and pillows and things like that."

Overall, Gagen said, people were cooperative and grateful.

'IT'S LIKE A PRISON'

But across town in the Bob Hayes Sports Complex and Legends Center on Soutel Drive, some people were grumbling. …

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