AMHERST – It’s for situations like this the Canadian Red Cross trains.
Soon after the fire alarm sounded at the Victorian Arms Apartments, staff and volunteers from the Amherst regional office spray into action.
“We were here within moments of the fire call,” Angela Lohnes said. “We were identifying people who were evacuated from the building, providing them blankets and working on providing shelter.”
The fire, that destroyed the former Windsor Block and Black Block buildings on Victoria Street, left more than 30 people homeless.
The Red Cross brought in additional disaster volunteers and staff to help evacuees from the fire. Nine Red Cross personnel as well as supplies from Amherst and Truro are supporting a reception and shelter operation to assist at least 34 people forced from their apartments, including 28 adults and six children.
Another Red Cross disaster team from Sackville, N.B. was placed on standby to assist.
“Our immediate response in an emergency situation such as this is to meet the basic needs including food, shelter and clothing, personal services such as pets and medications and to provide registration and inquiry services,” district community supervisor Mona O’Brien said.
Twenty-four people stayed at the shelter through the night, while another 10 found alternate places to stay with family, friends or at local motels.
The reception centre and shelter was initially set up at the First Baptist Church, but smoke from the fire forced its relocation to the Amherst Lions Community Centre.
Red Cross officials also worked with Amherst and Cumberland County emergency officials and other agencies, including Community Services, to assess evacuees’ emergency needs including lodging, feeding and clothing. Most tenants escaped the building with just the clothes they were wearing.
The Salvation Army is also assisting with emergency clothing needs. O’Brien said people wanting to donate clothing can bring them to the Salvation Army thrift store on the corner of West Victoria and Hickman streets.
O’Brien said a number of local businesses have donated food to the evacuees and their needs will be assessed in the coming days with the assistance of Community Services.