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With power still out, shelters open in central Virginia

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Randi B. Hagi
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In the Central Virginia counties where many are still without power after Monday's winter storm, emergency shelters have opened to bring folks in from the cold. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

A small band of Madison County residents woke up on Wednesday morning to a breakfast of bagels with cream cheese, bacon, and fresh fruit served up in the Volunteer Fire Station, which opened an emergency shelter on Tuesday. By then, many locals had already been without power for 24 hours.

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Credit Randi B. Hagi
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Valerie Ward directs Madison County's Department of Social Services.

VALERIE WARD: So folks were desperate to be warm and to charge electronic devices, for the most part. 

Valerie Ward is overseeing the shelter. She directs the county's Department of Social Services.

WARD: This is our sleeping area, where we have cots kind of spaced out to have as good a level of social distancing as we could have … we have, I believe, 15 cots in this room, and as you see, normally this is a huge kind of ballroom in a fire hall where events are hosted.

There's also a separate room set up with two cots in case they have someone come in with COVID-19 who needs shelter – which thankfully hasn't happened yet. Nine people spent that first night, with more popping in and out throughout the day to get a hot shower or water for their animals. 

WARD: They have needed to refill horse troughs, so luckily we have the availability to fill jugs of water out in the backside of the fire department … We have a pretty strong community of homesteaders who are very self-sufficient and have wood stoves and have generators and have propane grills … folks that are proud to be self-sufficient in every other arena, but they really are looking forward, by day three, to a hot shower.

She said other people are bunking with family and friends until the power comes back on. 

WARD: We've heard tell of staying with family members who have had their power restored. We have neighbors who are kind of having giant sleepovers. We've heard of community bonfires where folks are having a good time, keeping warm and burning brush … and then the folks that may not have local family members or natural supports are looking for us as a community to fill that gap.

Daryl Garr, who lives about 15 minutes away from the fire station, said Rappahannock Electric Cooperative didn't know for sure when they'd get his house back on the grid. He spent Tuesday night at the shelter. 

DARYL GARR: Definitely a different experience, you know. Not used to not having power for days at a time. But we've had a good experience here, though … It's different, you know, because you're used to staying in your own home, but the people here are great. They've made us feel at home and pretty much catered to whatever we've needed, so it makes it all definitely easier.

Ward said there's been a huge outpouring of support for the shelter.

WARD: We just got a call that just a citizen wanted to bake a lasagna for us! … We've just been so humbled by the number of Madison County citizens that just stop by the shelter and ask what we need. They're going to Food Lion, what can they drop back by? Some folks in the community have started a canned food drive to have us able to send folks back to their home, when the power comes back on, with some nonperishable goods.

She anticipates keeping the shelter open through the weekend, at least. As of Thursday morning, 28% of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative customers in Madison County were still without power, and with more snow in the forecast.

WARD: It's just wonderful to be a part of a community where it isn't just local government, it's not just a Department of Social Services initiative, it really is a full community effort to take care of our own.

Emergency shelters and daytime warming stations have also been established in Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, and Orange.