Hmmm, where to start? I guess it began when we took out the Hurricane Readiness Plan and began to review it and put it into action. On Wednesday we began discussing possible evacuation, including transportation and shelter for our associates. We spoke with Cape May County OEM, Red Cross, and individual shelters. When we told them how many people we had, they said they couldn’t accommodate us; we had to make our own arrangements.
We began racking our brains and making phone calls: schools, shelters, hotels…. Anywhere we thought could possibly take us. After several hours, we still had no options. When I went back to the waterpark, I mentioned it to John Famiano. John has worked for us for 17 seasons. He is a physical education teacher, but spends his summers in Wildwood as a Waterpark Manager. He immediately called his school’s Business Administrator, who in turn called the Superintendent who called the insurance company and a contract and insurance were quickly provided and signed.
Brookfield Academy in Cherry Hill and Brookfield Elementary in Haddon Heights became our lifesavers and our temporary home. Ok, we had a place, we had made busing arrangements on Wednesday…. Now we needed supplies.
Our food and beverage department arranged for Sysco and Coca Cola to drop off meals, snacks and beverages. Sysco was extremely helpful, leaving refrigerated trucks and even ordering a refill on gas for the next morning. Joe from Sysco checked in with me throughout the time we were there.
We bused out on Friday. The first employees left around 2pm and the last not until almost 6:30pm. I followed the last of the students up in my car. John had already been at the school in advance of the employees to unload the supplies. When I reached the schools, I was so pleasantly surprised. They were very well equipped. The schools did not confine us to the gymnasiums; they allowed us to use classrooms. We had wifi, computers, movie projectors, a basketball court and a stage where we had a talent show. Our associates made me very proud; they made the best of an unusual circumstance and choose to have a positive attitude. They treated each other and the school with respect. They helped us make meals, clean up and keep things orderly.
CIEE, the state department sponsor of most of our international students flew in two representatives from Portland, Maine to assist us with running the shelter. The international students were so pleased to see that their sponsor was there for them.
One issue we did encounter, we did not have any cots. We had told employees to bring pillows and blankets and we brought matts from the waterslides to use as a cushion, but we still didn’t have enough. When the school found out we had a shortage, they put out word through their communication system. It went to the teachers and parents. From there, Mayor Alexander of Haddon Heights heard about us. He stopped by the shelter several times and put out a call to residents in Haddon Heights. The outpouring of pillows, blankets, and games was amazing and overwhelming. Haddon Heights is one of the nicest, if not the nicest, communities I have ever encountered. Residents also brought flashlights, radios, and one woman stopped by with her dog for the employees to play with.
Sunday morning, Camille, the wife of Congressman Andrews, came over with breakfast for everyone. She and the Mayor also gave me their personal numbers in case we needed anything at all. Luckily, I didn’t need to call them. We got word to call the buses and arrange for an afternoon return to Wildwood. When the announcement was made that we were returning home, the group let out a loud cheer! They let out an even louder cheer when I was able to report that damages seemed to be very limited and we would all be returning to work imminently.
Everyone was safe, well fed, maybe not well rested, but returning to an almost completely intact island….. all in all it was a positive experience that will stay with me and certainly with our employees for a very long time.
I’d like to thank the following staff who assisted with shelter operations (all of whom had other options, but choose to help):
Will B Morey
Bill Oakley Jr.
And our staff/partners who came by to serve meals:
Andrew Haenchen and friends
Kathy Santiago and Family
Anne O’Boyle Emmer
Paul Bakey and Family