Residents disagree with county’s approach to hurricane relief

Four days after a visit by Hurricane Irene, several residents from Matoaca and Ettrick questioned the county’s effort to both update and tend to its residents in need.  

Convening at the Ettrick-Matoaca library last Wednesday evening for a community meeting held by Matoaca district supervisor Marlene Durfree, citizens voiced their concerns to Edward Senter, Jr., fire chief of Chesterfield County, and Charles Dane, the county’s deputy director of general services.

One was Janis Johnson, who said surrounding counties were calling their residents several times a day after the storm had passed, informing them of nearby shelters which housed numerous resources. She said that many of them even told their residents where they could find a hot meal, ice and water in the event they were without power for days on end.

After researching extensively what her “county was doing for the residents,” Johnson found little evidence of similar action: “Looking at the TV, there was nothing that came on from Chesterfield County to tell us anything,” she said. “… It scared me because this was a serious event. What would have happened if it had been more serious?”

She also said the county should implement a calling system similar to what is used in Chesterfield County Public Schools, which calls the homes of each student to update them on a school-related issue.

Chief Senter, in response to these comments, said the power outage made telecommunication a challenge. He did say, however, the AM radio station 1640 broadcasts updates citizens around the clock on Chesterfield information. Senter also included that feeding stations in cooperation with the Red Cross were set up at two county locations; one at Bermuda Baptist Church in Chester, and the other at LaPrade library off Hull Street Road.

Offering further insights on the challenge in communicating with about a third of a million people after the storm, Dane said our county, at one point during the week, comprised a third of the 772,000 residents in the entire Richmond metropolitan area without power.

“We got hit harder – power-wise – than most of the other areas,” he said. “So with all the power outages, yes, your challenge to get information was probably much greater than somebody in Dinwiddie.”

Chesterfield resident Nancy Ross, that evening, read an excerpt from The Progress Index she discovered that morning; it included information about what the surrounding counties were doing in the aftermath of the storm – including Chesterfield County.

“The Chesterfield County government,” she read, “is not distributing ice because it is a convenience, not a life-saving commodity like water or food.”

Dane said he didn’t believe anyone in the leadership of the Emergency Operations Center thinks ice is a “convenience.”

Ross requests that the county reviews and make improvements to the current emergency preparedness plan. However, Chief Senter assured the room that “life safety” was the county’s biggest focus during these kinds of situations.

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