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Louisa County provides safe space to shelter in place

MINERAL — Louisa County cousins Debora Raines-Johnson and Darlene Davis are ready to go home.

“This storm was terrible,” Raines-Johnson said. “I call it the snow tornado, because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

Since the Jan. 3 winter storm dumped up to 15 inches of snow on Central Virginia and knocked out power to tens of thousands of households and businesses, the cousins have been without power and staying at the Louisa County Middle School overnight shelter.

Louisa County was one of the first localities in the region to open an overnight shelter, as 97% of its homes were without power after the storm hit, county spokesperson Cindy King said.

“We had to set up something pretty quickly just given that almost everyone was without heat, unless they have a generator, but even so that has a limited time span,” she said.

The overnight shelter, which has provided cots, blankets, medical care and food to about 30 residents a day, is fully staffed through at least tomorrow and King said the county will reassess as time goes on.

A warming shelter is also available for residents at Holly Grove Fire Department at 143 Factory Mill Road in Bumpass.

“The numbers are going to have to pretty drastically drop before we decide to spin down our warming centers,” King said.

More than 20% of electric customers in Louisa were still without power Saturday and about 80% of those were Rappahannock Electric Cooperative members.

In a news release, the utility said it still estimates the majority of outages should be restored by Sunday night, but scattered, smaller outages will continue into next week.

“Most larger outage events will clear up over the weekend,” Casey Hollins, utility spokeswoman said. “Because [Rappahannock] has hundreds of mutual-aid crews helping in the field, they will also now be able to tackle smaller outages throughout [the utility’s service] communities.”

The Louisa County shelter had two families that tested positive for COVID-19 housed in separate areas of the building, each with their own entrance. County staff is also performing temperature checks as well as fogging the gym and cafeteria periodically.

Raines-Johnson and Davis have been at the Louisa shelter since it opened Tuesday.

“It was cold,” Raines-Johnson said. “I tried to fight it out in the house the first day but it was so cold, so I called to see if they had a shelter.”

Louisa County sheriff’s deputies brought the pair to the school and even took Davis from the school to her house and back so she could check on it.

“They’ve treated us very well,” Davis said, of county staff and volunteers who have been working at the shelter. “We commend them.”

The county even started allowing pets at the overnight shelter with help from the Louisa Community Animal Response Team, a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides emergency sheltering and care of animals during federal, state or local emergencies and in support of law enforcement agencies.

Mary Johnson, the team leader of Louisa CART, said they’ve had one dog stay in the school so far.

“But you know what, we’d be here anyway, because you never know when another dog could show up,” she said. “We could get one, sometimes we get none, sometimes we get more.”

Fluvanna County opened a warming shelter at its high school on Tuesday and converted it to an overnight emergency shelter on Thursday. The Kents Store Agricultural Recreational Center was opened as an emergency shelter on Friday night. Both shelters closed Saturday.

In Greene County, a warming and overnight shelter opened Tuesday at the Stanardsville Volunteer Fire Company. That shelter closed on Friday.

Albemarle County did not open any overnight shelters, but had three warming centers that will be open again 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Baker-Butler Elementary School at 2740 Proffit Road, Greenwood Community Center at 865 Greenwood Road in Crozet and Scottsville Community Center at 250 Page Street in Scottsville.

Showers, Wi-Fi and electricity are available at Baker-Butler, while Wi-Fi and electricity are available at Greenwood and Scottsville community centers.

The county will also again have water available Sunday, with potable water at Earlysville Fire Department at 283 Reas Ford Road in Earlysville and North Garden Fire Department at 4907 Plank Road in North Garden.

Agricultural/non-potable water access will be available at Hollymead Fire Rescue (Station 12) at 3575 Lewis and Clark Drive and Scottsville Fire Department at 141 Irish Road in Scottsville.

Albemarle County Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said the county didn’t open warming centers until the afternoon of Jan. 5 because it was trusting power company estimates of when electric service would be restored.

Dominion Energy and other electricity providers have been criticized for their inaccurate and ever-extending estimated restoration times after the Jan. 3 storm.

“We’re making decisions based on the data that we’re receiving from the energy companies, so when that data is not accurate it makes it more difficult for us to make the best decisions,” Kilroy said. “But we do try to make the best decision with the information that we have.”

As of Jan. 6, 10 Albemarle families had been housed for “a night or two” at a hotel. Kilroy said that through the 911 center there is a Department of Social Services staff member on call for human services needs who will work with residents to address the situation.

“Oftentimes they work to try to find what we call natural support resources, which is using your existing network of friends and family to get assistance,” Kilroy said. “But if there’s an urgent human services need, up to and including a hotel stay for a night or two, it’s something that we can do.”

Charlottesville Interim Deputy Director of Communications David Dillehunt said the city has been working with Albemarle County and the University of Virginia to address community needs, as it does during major emergencies and disasters.

“Due to the pandemic and the high levels of community spread we are experiencing, we initially employed a shelter-in-place strategy,” he said in an email. “This is standard strategy even in non-pandemic times where the community is asked to be prepared to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.”

Dillehunt said community members experiencing homelessness were offered shelter with PACEM and the Salvation Army and people were given hotel rooms when those facilities reached capacity.

Other community members who were without power after three days were also offered hotel rooms. As of Friday night seven residents were staying in hotels.


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