Binghamton University’s Event Center and West Gym sheltered some 1,600 people from the greater Binghamton area yesterday night from flooding that left parts of Downtown Binghamton, Endicott, Johnson City and elsewhere underwater.
The rain and subsequent flooding caused the University to cancel classes after 3 p.m. Wednesday and all day yesterday and today.
EVENT CENTER AND WEST GYM TAKE IN EVACUEES
The Red Cross opened 17 shelters in the area, including the Events Center and West Gym, on Wednesday for people endangered by the flooding, according to Amy Hegy, public affairs manager for the American Red Cross’ Hurricane Irene response efforts in New York State.
“Our situation overnight on Wednesday was about as good as could be expected,” Hegy said. “People were patient and kind. We didn’t have enough cots and blankets initially, so some people made do in chairs.”
Hegy said that the Events Center received a shipment of cots yesterday afternoon from the New York State Emergency Operations Center — enough for all in the building who wanted one.
More than 1,000 people populated the main floor of the Events Center yesterday evening. They included individuals of all ages, though the elderly were prevalent. Many lay on cots, some watched television, while others walked around, seeking out hygiene facilities or supplies like water, food, towels and blankets.
Volunteers, including many BU students, gave away food provided to the Red Cross by Sodexo.
“The situation is so dire, I’m not sure if people on campus realize, because there was no flooding here,” said Francesca Lucia, an undeclared sophomore who went to the Events Center with a group of friends. “Since we got here we’ve been giving out food, playing with the kids, sweeping up, and finding cots for people.”
Timothy Faughnan, the chief of BU’s New York State University Police, said that the University, Red Cross, Broome County Health Department and volunteers were working together to manage the situation at the Events Center and West Gym.
“Challenges have included making sure we have the resources we need,” Faughnan said. “We reached capacity around 3 p.m. [yesterday] and had to start moving evacuees to Johnson City High School. But we plan and drill for this sort of thing, and we all went through this before in 2006. Hats off also to the local community people and University students that have been helping.”
PREPARING THE SHELTER
The Event Center acts as an evacuation center for the region in case of catastrophic events, according to James Van Voorst, vice president of administration at BU.
BU spokeswoman Gail Glover said that the building had been used as a shelter once previously, during flooding in June 2006.
“We are working with the Red Cross and doing the best we can to make the facility as comfortable as possible,” Van Voorst said Wednesday night. “It amazes me how fast our team can have this building ready to shelter folks.”
Glover said that the University’s Emergency Response Team met at 2 p.m. Wednesday to prepare and organize the school’s response to the flooding.
According to Glover, the Broome County Emergency Operations Center contacted the University later that afternoon to ask that the Events Center be prepared as a shelter.
David Hubeny, the emergency manager for BU’s New York State University Police, sent out a Rave Alert system text message to students and staff at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday stating that the Events Center “will be opening as a shelter effective at 6 p.m. tonight.”
DOCTORS, NURSES AND STUDENTS VOLUNTEER
Many medical personnel were on hand Thursday, helping to care for many of the elderly, disabled or sick among those taking refuge in the Events Center and West Gym.
Dr. Safa Maklad, who works at UHS Wilson Memorial Hospital, said there were four residents and two attending physicians from her hospital on site at 6:30 p.m. yesterday. She added that UHS Wilson staff had been volunteering at the Events Center since 11 p.m. Wednesday.
“The usual problem we’ve been getting is shortness of breath,” Maklad said. “We have the situation under good control. We have a table set up where people can head for medical attention, and we have more staff and advanced technology equipment in the West Gym.”
The Red Cross placed evacuees who required greater medical attention in the West Gym so that medical resources could be concentrated there.
Laura Terriquez-Kasey, assistant clinical professor at the Decker School of Nursing, said that there were about 102 people being sheltered in the West Gym at 7:15 p.m. yesterday.
“Most here are ‘fragile elders.’ They have multiple medical problems or diagnoses,” Terriquez-Kasey said. “We need to set them up in a bed, and some of them need special diets, oxygen or dialysis.”
Terriquez-Kasey said yesterday evening that most in the West Gym had their own hospital bed, but that she was waiting for five additional beds to arrive from local hospitals to fill a temporary shortage.
Students from the Decker School of Nursing volunteered yesterday to help provide care to those that needed it. They worked in shifts of 16 students throughout the day, according to Terriquez-Kasey.
Jonathon LaChance, a student in the Decker School, said that he and other Decker students got texts from friends and Decker faculty yesterday morning asking them to assist in the West Gym.
“I’ve been here since before noon.” LaChance said at 7 p.m. “We’ve been doing our best to make sure everyone is fed, checking their blood pressure — many here are diabetics — help bed-ridden patients to use the bathroom, and so forth. We’ve got some backup tanks of oxygen and food right now, but we are running low because it’s been hard for transports to get through with all the flooding. It’s been organized chaos.”
Dr. Chris Ryan, the Broome County Health Department director who was also on scene yesterday and Wednesday, said that the Health Department was responsible for sheltering and managing the needs of people with significant medical issues.
“No nursing homes were evacuated here to Binghamton University, because we don’t have the right kind of equipment and facilities here to care for them,” he explained. “But a big issue is people coming quickly form home who did not bring their medications with them.”