Cramped quarters ...

Waiting out Wilma in Germain

There are signs the hectic day is winding down.

Children have been dressed in their pajamas and carry their favorite stuffed animals. Families are gathered in their respective corners. They've brought their playstations, their video games and their televisions. At the top of one family's pile of videocassettes is "Twister."

After 10 p.m. the long lines of people pouring into the arena to escape Hurricane Wilma's path have finally subsided. Ahead count is estimated at more than 3,000, a number deputies from the Lee County Sheriff's office believe may be closer to 4,000. The crowd is quieted for a moment as someone announces over a loudspeaker that the lights will go dim in about 10 minutes so people can get some rest. The announcement is made in English and then again in Spanish.

Bilinguality has proven to be crucial.

As evacuees set up spaces in nearly every corner of the arena, sections are stationed off with bright yellow tape. There are other distinctions that make the boundaries clear. In some corners televisions blare only Spanish-translated channels. In other corners, only English is spoken. Earlier in the evening, as the evacuees continue to flee to Germain, volunteers able to speak Spanish couldn't accomodate the large number of Hispanics who have sought shelter here. So Red Cross coordinators called on evacuees already signed into the shelter to help out.

"We did have to pull some people from the floor to help translate," said Arlene Knox, director of development for the Lee County Red Cross.

There have been other snags.

The turf wars that can only come when thousands of people set up camp on sectioned off corners of a regulation-sized hockey rink. Most stay on their side of the bright yellow tape, but some were taking more of their share with large camping tents that had been set up along the rinks edge. The tents were taken down in order to make room for more sleeping bags and air mattresses.

But these are among the few snags that have arisen in this Lee County shelter. It has been running as smooth as can be expected and most of the kinks have been worked out over the past 24 hours, Knox says. Unless of course, you have the last year's shelter to compare it to. A man wearing a Chicago firefighter's T-shirt approaches Knox and asks why there isn't any refreshments set out. He points out that refreshments were offered to him last year when he evacuated to Germain Arena during Hurricane Charley.

"What happened," he says. " Last year you guys had coffee and sandwiches."

Knox points out the shelter has been serving three meals a day and coffee was set out after dinner. "I'm sorry, you must have just missed it," she says before the man turns away.

"There is some measure of order to the chaos," Knox says.

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