PORT ORANGE — Creekside Middle School’s last two shelter guests were helped into a Votran bus before noon Wednesday, and staff members set their sights on sanitizing the space for students’ return.
The news that Volusia County’s 15 shelters were closing with Hurricane Dorian still churning off the nearby coast was not a surprise, Creekside Principal John Cash said, but a “good sign that everything’s getting back to normalcy.”
“We’re looking forward to getting kids and teachers back into their routine,” Cash said, following school district officials’ announcement that classes would resume Friday.
Inside Creekside’s cafeteria, Florida Department of Health employees already were hard at work cleaning county-issued cots, scouring restrooms and scrubbing floors where just hours before about 80 area residents, health care professionals and school staff weathered Hurricane Dorian’s waning winds.
The school’s solid construction silenced most storm noise overnight and the atmosphere inside remained calm, Cash said. And the generators — needed to power oxygen tanks and nebulizers in case of an outage — went unused.
Stella Catherine Hamilton, one of the last two guests to leave, said Dorian didn’t disturb her at all.
“I go to sleep and I don’t hear anything,” Hamilton said as a Votran driver buckled her in and fastened her wheelchair to the bus floor. “But I’m not a worrier so I don’t waste my time.”
Like several of Creekside’s mostly elderly guests, Hamilton has needs beyond what can be catered to in Volusia County’s nine general population and pet-friendly shelters.
Her large wheelchair minimizes mobility and can be cumbersome in small spaces such as restrooms. At Creekside, where she also sheltered during Hurricane Irma, she has room to maneuver and always finds the staff happy to assist.
“The attitude they have is very different. I’ve stayed at three or four different (shelters), and this is the best so far,” said Hamilton, who declined to share her age. “I don’t disclose my secrets to the fellas,” she added, stealing a glance at the passenger beside her.
Guests’ comfort is “100 percent attributable to the people who work here,” Cash said. “We’re here to serve and make it as enjoyable as we can.”
Tuesday night, that meant putting together an impromptu game of Bingo to help ease anxiety ahead of the storm, complete with Creekside umbrellas and shirts as prizes.
Hurricane Dorian’s decline to Category 3 on Tuesday offered additional relief.
“I would’ve been a little apprehensive if it had stayed a (Category) 5,” said Mary Miller when she stepped out of the shelter with her Port Orange neighbor Linda Kerr to stretch her legs between Tuesday morning rain showers.
The storm’s strength dissuaded Miller from taking her chances at home. “The good Lord let me live to 80. I’m not going to defy him.”
For Kerr, who lives alone at age 81, the peace of mind that came with being served three meals a day in a secure facility made the hours whiled away on campus feel almost like a mini vacation.
“We’re getting fed very well and I feel safe,” Kerr said.
At that point, the women anticipated sheltering there through Thursday or Friday, but Miller acknowledged Dorian’s pattern of unpredictability with a laugh. “That’s a man for ya.”
Wednesday morning, Hurricane Dorian supported that statement.
As the final straps were cinched on Hamilton’s wheelchair, she said she’d just received the confirmation she needed in order to return home. Her ground-floor apartment near the Halifax River had “safety and power.”