Weathering the storm
As the sun was setting Saturday, activity in the Richardson Sixth Grade Academy cafeteria was just beginning to stir.
People were unfolding cots, using electric air pumps to fill air mattresses or settling their personal items into a corner of the building they had staked-out for their family.
The Richardson Sixth Grade Academy opened to the public as a Hurricane Irma storm shelter at 2 p.m. Saturday, and by mid-day, people were already filing in with their belongings.
Richardson Sixth Grade Academy Principal Sonya Judkins said about 20 came to the shelter within the first four hours after it opened and the numbers have been increasing ever since.
"We've had several volunteers come to help us and right now we're helping people get set-up," she said.
The facility has been providing people with meals and has several televisions where they can track Hurricane Irma's progress. In addition, an area was set-up for preschool-aged children to play.
"We've got people from Fort Pierce, Lake City, Clearwater and Miami," Judkins said. "We've had lots of people come in."
Judkins said the people seeking refuge from the storm have shown a variety of emotions now that they have a secure place to weather the storm.
"A couple of them have looked tired from their emotional trip from the storm," she said. "One gentleman, who had driven from Florida City, has had a long drive and he was a little wearing from being on the road that long, but he was happy to get somewhere, get out of his car and come in and eat."
Judkins said people who arrived at the shelter were prepared to stay in a shelter and brought their own bedding, snacks and other supplies.
"We've also had several people who've come with just themselves," she said. "It's nice for them to be able to come in eat and get a cot. They were not exactly prepared, but definitely happy to have some accommodations."
The Richardson Sixth Grade Academy has space for about 250-275 people, Judkins said, noting they could increase capacity by opening the school auditorium.
"We do have backup plans if we get too full," she said.