By: Kathleen Maclay
The SS Wright, a Maritime Administration support ship docked at Staten Island, is serving as a shelter for Red Cross volunteers responding to Hurricane Sandy — in an effort believed to be the first of its kind.
“We thought it was a crazy rumor,” said Dave Turner, a Boulder, CO volunteer and manager of the ship shelter that put up its first volunteers Tuesday night.
Then, Turner said, he heard mention of a specific seaside address. “Next – got a phone call to go over and open it (the shelter) up.”
After getting a quick tour of the ship, Turner began checking in what turned out to be a contingent of 52 volunteers from the Red Cross and 30 helpers with the Southern Baptist kitchen out of Texas.
The SS Wright, based in Baltimore, Md., was rocking in the harbor as a Nor’eastern hit the island and rain and snow fell alternately outside.
Several of the first shelter residents accepted Dramamine from Red Cross nurse Patricia Morton of Centerville, Tenn. To cope with motion sickness.
The floating shelter does take some getting used to, said Turner and other volunteers making it their temporary home.
For example, ship residents sleep in bunks stacked three vertically. There are overhead night lights, but little space to move about — or turn over there was agreement that the bottom bunk is the most preferable, followed by the middle and finally the top.
There are no ladders and climbing in and out can be tricky. The bunks are basically a challenge to get into, and get out of.
“It’s harder than it looks,” said Turner, 75.
The staff onboard Wednesday was an international one, with Red Cross volunteers from as far away as Novia Scotia and Puerto Rico.
“Its sort of an exciting adventure because its totally unique from my past experiences,” said Turner, a retired airline pilot.
“If I just had a little more head space in my bunk, and I’d it was a little quieter,” he remarked, noting the constant hum of ventilators and other equipment.
Turner said quarters, reached via a long and steep gangplank, are cozy and shelter residents quickly become like family.
Volunteer Rona Frye of Modesto, CA was packing and heading to work in a shelter on Long Island after one night on the six-level ship that can sleep 350 total. The Red Cross has about a quarter of that space.
“We kind liked hanging out here” she said.
The ship shelter is equipped a small lounge with tables, chairs, electrical connections and cell phone reception.
Although much of the country was tuned into election results Tuesday night, Turner said shelter residents focused on their disaster duties and getting some rest. He got the news of Obamas reelection via shortwave radio and the BBC world Service a bit after midnight.
Residents can eat breakfast and dinner on board. There also are shower and laundry facilities. Special lockers hold life jackets and emergency exposure suits to protect from icy ocean waters.
As Red Cross staff took shelter during breaks from their assignments in nearby communities, they were protected from a taste of the kinds of severe weather that brought them here in the first place.