Red Cross recalls epic ice storm, plans March 19 drill

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Eleanor Parker and Ed Bronson re-enact how they passed time at the shelter in 1991.

Today the weather may be docile, but 20 years ago, New York showed just how temperamental winter can be, even in March.

Eleanor Parker, who serves on the Yates County Red Cross Disaster Team, remembers being prepared to help.

She, Mary Burris, Ed Bronson and others set up a shelter at Penn Yan Academy because there were people in some areas of the county who were without power.

They sat up the whole night — playing cards.

No one needed the assistance of the shelter, but that was fine with Parker.

“It’s all about being prepared,” she explains.

Being prepared is why she and other volunteers are planning a disaster drill presentation to be held at Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan on March 19. The local drill is part of a satewide shelter drill.  During the presentation, the public can see what it would be like if a disaster struck and you had to move into a shelter right here in Yates County.

Twenty years ago, the disaster was much more severe in the Rochester area and there were widespread areas where people were without power for several days.

Sheryl Karch, Director of Volunteer Development at the American Red Cross of Greater Rochester, who was employed at the Rochester location during the storm as a Director, Office of Volunteer Personnel, recalls, “The Red Cross really had to mobilize quickly to help the huge numbers of folks who lost power in our area.”

The “huge numbers” Karch is referring to includes the total number of people affected by the storm — 603,750, according to Red Cross records. Due to the widespread loss of power, the Red Cross opened 67 shelters throughout the region to provide people with a warm refuge from the ice. At its peak, the population staying in shelters reached 3,900.

The Red Cross is making sure that they are continually prepared for disasters like the Ice Storm of 1991 by holding a statewide shelter drill on March 19.

“The Ice Storm of ’91 was certainly the largest-scale disaster we’ve experienced in this area for many, many years,” said Leighton Jones, Director of Disaster and Emergency Services. “We’ll use this month’s drill to ensure that we are prepared to respond to another disaster of that magnitude, or larger, at a moment’s notice.”

During the ice storm, the Red Cross served over 75,000 meals and snacks to shelter residents and provided 6,000 families with financial assistance. Overall, the storm cost the Red Cross nearly $2.1 million. Another local disaster of that scale would require an equally or more costly response from the organization.

“We operate solely on donations, so any contribution you can make to the Red Cross helps us be prepared for emergencies,” said John Buttrill, CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater Rochester. “Thanks to community generosity, we have the resources we need to be responsive in a timely fashion.”