It’s around 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon, and the doors of West Philadelphia High School still don’t appear to be open.
I’m standing with a group of about 10 West Philadelphia residents who had come to the school, which is serving as one of the three American Red Cross storm shelters during Hurricane Sandy. The residents grumbled a little as they waited on the school’s steps with their small suitcases and bags while the rain drummed on.
Fifteen minutes later, it turned out that we were waiting at the wrong entrance, as a Red Cross volunteer came out from the other side of the school to lead us inside.
Though the main storm had not yet arrived, the residents were eager to get out of the rain.
“I’m here because my apartment tends to leak. Having a leak in the ceiling does not make for a comfortable experience when there’s something like a hurricane on its way,” said Valerie Aboulafia, a Lancaster Avenue resident who plans to stay inside the school, located at 4901 Chestnut Street, until the storm is finished. “Some houses are just in flood zones, and it’s just not a good idea to stay in your house.”
Over the next few days, the shelter will be providing food, drinks and cots to those in need.
I walked along with those looking for shelter as they shuffled into the high school entrance, registering at the table in front while police officers and Red Cross volunteers looked on.
The Red Cross representatives on hand declined to comment on how many people were being housed in the shelter, and did not allow reporters — including myself and those from The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News — inside the area where West Philadelphia residents will be staying overnight.
Despite the barrage of media reports about the storm over the past few days, most of the residents who arrived at the shelter didn’t seem overly worried about the upcoming hurricane.
Anthony Hairston said that, other than his mother, he had not seen anybody he knows from his West Philadelphia neighborhood at the shelter.
Hairston’s main concern isn’t about the storm itself, but rather about its potential side effects.
“They were saying the electricity was going to be out,” he said. “That was the main thing I was worried about.”
Others are concerned about potential flooding that may occur with the expected rain from Sandy.
“When Irene happened, we got flooded. My basement got flooded,” Ronda Boston, another West Philadelphia resident, said of why she decided to check into the shelter. “I can’t swim and they said it was going to rain for 18 hours, so I was concerned about that.”
Whatever their reasons, it was important to the residents to have a safe place to go to in case of an emergency.
“I feel that it’s safer to be around numbers,” Aboulafia said. “It’s just a good thing to be around people in an emergency. You should never be alone.”