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Forced From Their Homes, People Get By In This Lawrence Shelter03:29
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Donations at the shelter at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Donations at the shelter at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

There were no classes Friday at Arlington Middle School in Lawrence. Instead the gymnasium was full of emergency cots and piles of donations everywhere — bottled water, granola bars, diapers.

The Red Cross estimated nearly 140 people stayed at the makeshift shelter Thursday night, after a series of explosions and fires swept through the city and two neighboring communities.

Many people left the shelter Friday morning, trying to start their day and get off to work, but the facility was still busy in the afternoon, with a steady stream of people trickling into the school. Some families, a few individuals and one older woman in a wheelchair were escorted in, with a small dog sitting in her lap.

Pat Medina visited the shelter not looking for a place to sleep, but asking for help getting back to her home to get her husband's medications. She said when they evacuated their condo in Andover Thursday night, they left with their dog and the clothes on their backs.

"I mean my husband takes 11 medications a day, and he's already missed last night and today so far, that I've gotta get his meds," she said.

A representative from Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera's office told Medina a bus would be leaving soon from the school. The medication shuttles have been making stops throughout the neighborhoods that were evacuated Thursday and are still closed to traffic. Medina was trying to get to Andover. He told her it was worth a shot.

In the school gymnasium, Geraldine Lopez was settling in with her husband and three children. They stayed in a hotel Thursday night because their house was among thousands that had electricity cut. They hope to return home Saturday.

Lopez's two young sons were chasing one another around the gym while her 12-year-old daughter desperately looked for an outlet to charge her phone.

That's when Tom Loughlin chimed in, saying he hadn't been able to find outlets in the gym. Loughlin lives in South Lawrence and spent the night sleeping in the shelter after he evacuated from his home. His white hair was sticking up just slightly in the back and he had a weary look on his face — but he was smiling.

"I didn't know how extensive this emergency was going to be," he said. "I left my house around 7, drove up to Salem, went shopping. My gym is up there, and I figured, if I'm only going to shower today, hey, I'm going to my gym."

Loughlin said he was driving around, hoping he'd be able to return home Thursday night before he eventually checked into this shelter at around 2 Friday morning.

He's not so sure he'll be back home Friday night and said the environment at the shelter was "controlled chaos. This is a very fluid situation but the people running the show are handling each problem as it happens."

Outside the shelter, an ambulance pulled up, the driver hopped out, sort of whistling to himself, opened the back door of the ambulance, and murmured to himself: "Crazy day."

This segment aired on September 14, 2018.

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Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is a reporter representing WBUR on a team of public radio station journalists in the New England News Collaborative.

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