UPDATE: As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, more than 160 people had sought shelter at Milford Middle School, according to officials from the American Red Cross.
The more Denise Jenkins heard the news reports about Hurricane Sandy drawing nearer to the Delaware coastline, the more anxious she became to leave her home in flood prone south Bowers Beach.
"I kept calling the governor's office and emergency hotlines, trying to push for a mandatory evacuation, so the shelters would be set up and we would have somewhere to go," said Jenkins, the mother of a 5-year-old girl with special needs. "We were getting ready to bunker down in a closet and were feeling like sitting ducks when finally the governor made a decision [Saturday] evening."
Jenkins, her mother, her husband and her daughter were among the first people to arrive at the emergency shelter at Milford Middle School soon after it opened at noon on Sunday.
Over the ensuing six hours, they would be joined by more than 50 people also seeking a safe place to stay during the storm, which is expected to bring 75 mph winds and up to a foot of rain over the next 48 hours.
The shelter is being operated by the American Red Cross and is staffed with nurses from the Delaware Division of Public Health, technicians from the Kent County SPCA and staff from the Delaware Medical Reserve Corps.
Most of those who arrived at Milford Middle School on Sunday live in manufactured homes, are the residents of flood-areas in northern Sussex County, or both.
Many, like Woodside roommates Loretta Lankford and Tiffany Carey, said this wasn't the first time they were forced to seek shelter in major storm.
"We evacuated to Milford High School for three days last year during Hurricane Irene," said Carey, who along with Lankford brought their husbands and four children, all between the ages of 2 and 10. "This one is a little different, because last year I feel like they did better job of letting everyone know about the shelter and had a bigger area for people to sleep when it was at the high school."
Gov. Jack Markell issued the mandatory evacuations for coastal communities and areas historically known to flood after 5 p.m. on Saturday. In addition to the emergency shelter at Milford Middle School, two other shelters were set up in Sussex County, including one at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes and another at Indian River High School in Dagsboro.
The governor's office did not respond to an email seeking comment on the timing of the evacuations. However, Milford School District Phyllis Kohel said the middle school was chosen as the host of the emergency shelter over the larger high school for practical reasons.
"Both [the Delaware Emergency Management Agency] and the city suggested we use the middle school because of they're expecting a large number of power outages," she said. "The middle school is on the same loop at Milford Memorial Hospital, which will be the first priority for service if there is an outage."
Several of those staying at Milford Middle on Sunday night said that last year they had gone to a shelter Lake Forest High School, which isn't open this week.
"We called 2-1-1 and they told us about this shelter and that they were taking pets, so we figured this would be the one for us," said Felton resident Ruth Teague, who came to Milford with her husband Dinel, their granddaughter Alesia Burton and their dog, Chico. "We didn't really want to leave, but we figured we we're better off safe than sorry. We can find another place to live if we have to, but we don't want to be in our mobile home if it goes down."
Levan and Rosalyn Woodson said they didn't hesitate to leave their flood-prone, ground-floor apartment in Harrington when they heard a shelter had opened in Milford.
"The authorities know what's best, so when they said skedaddle, we knew that was the best thing for us to do," Levan said. "We packed up some personal belongings and left our material belongings behind. As long as you have your family and God has got the whole world in his hand, you know you're going to be okay."