On Saturday afternoon, in preparation for Hurricane Irene, the Clark Recreation Center was transformed into the only American Red Cross Shelter in Union County serving families and individuals whose homes were rendered uninhabitable or hazardous as a result of the storm. Clark CERT volunteers led by Jerry Fewkes, Clark Emergency Management Coordinator and head of Clark FEMA, joined forces with American Red Cross volunteers to provide cots, blankets, water, coffee and tea and other provisions for evacuees from flooded homes and individuals whose electricity was out.
During and after Hurricane Irene's arrival, emergency evacuations were conducted across Union County as well as in Clark. Flooding at Oak Ridge Road, Brookside Terrace and Valley Road in Clark forced resident evacuations. Over 50 residents from the Riverview Terrace Apartments on Lake Avenue near Scotch Plains were also forced to evacuate due to possible cracks in the building's foundation caused by floodwaters.
The shelter accommodated fifteen overnight hurricane victims on Saturday night into Sunday. The first evacuees began arriving around 3 a.m. on Sunday as Hurricane Irene's fury accelerated in Union County. As trees fell and floodwaters around the county rose, so did the number of individuals needing shelter. Over the course of the day on Sunday, over 100 individuals from Clark, Rahway, Springfield, Union and other nearby communities were processed at the center. The elderly and infirm were taken to medical facilities to better serve their heightened needs, while others were assisted in making contact with friends or family who could accommodate them until the hazards that forced their evacuation were eliminated. By Sunday evening, volunteers had a total of 53 individuals still in need of shelter for the night.
Shelter volunteers expressed how pleased they were to see so many different volunteer and municipal groups represented and working seamlessly together to help with hazard rescues, processing storm victims and providing comfort, food and shelter for those in need.
Libby and Gene Reiss of Scotch Plains, members of Union County Medical Reserve Corps, said that during the day on Sunday they had worked with Clark EMS, Clark CERT, Roselle Park First Aid Squad, Red Cross Volunteers and members of mental health services groups among others. Gene Reiss was also impressed to see Clark's Mayor, Sal Bonaccorso, stop by late Sunday night with his son to check how things were running at the shelter, despite the long, chaotic day he had already endured. Jerry Fewkes also expressed his satisfaction with the response of CERT and all of the other volunteer and municipal groups throughout the crisis.
Beginning Monday morning, the shelter will be manned mostly by Red Cross staff. A handful of storm victims are expected to still require shelter at least through Monday or Tuesday night, perhaps longer depending on how quickly the flood waters recede and electricity can be restored throughout the county.