A shelter for those fleeing floods or other effects of Sandy was open for business by afternoon at Raritan Valley Community College, but a shelter manager at the location warned that those who wanted to find a dry spot, cot and some warmth there should arrive during a "window of opportunity."
"We have no idea what's going to happen," said Michael Hollander, one of two shelter managers at a shelter being set up mid-afternoon in one of the gyms at the community college in Branchburg. The college campus is at 118 Lamington Road off Route 22 westbound.
At some point, if the winds from the hurricane — expected to make landfall — and those who want to reach the shelter would be traveling on dark, debris-laden roads, they might be better off staying where they are, Hollander warned.
Those who wish to get to the shelter — set up with 220 cots and boxes of blankets on Monday afternoon — should take advantage of a "window of opportunity," he said. The Somerset County Branch of the American Red Cross is coordinating the refuge for those who need a place to stay as a result of Sandy's impact on the area.
Shawn Watters, the other shelter manager, said 270 cots are available if needed.
She said that heatable meals will be served first, and after the worst of the storm, vendors can bring meals if they want. Some restaurants donate food, Watters said.
One of the shelter's first two occupants — both from Hunterdon County — was Stephen Maris from the flood-prone Darts Mill Grove section of Flemington — and he said the Somerset County shelter was the most recent of many stops for him.
Maris said he had been warned by his landlord last week that he would likely need to evacuate even late last week — and he had to get out by Saturday.
He said he headed to his daughter's home in Somerville, but that area around Bridge Street was evacuated on Sunday.
Maris returned to Hunterdon before he arrived at RVCC with literally no more than the shirt on his back. Shortly before 3 p.m., he said he was waiting for a meal he had ordered — his first since 8 a.m.
The shelter will be open for as long as needed, the shelter managers said.
Earlier in the day, Bedminster Police Chief William Ussery said that Bedminster residents who were seeking shelter could go either to the Pottersville Firehouse or the RVCC shelter once it was open if they couldn't find a place to stay with family or friends.
The county has also set up a Red Cross shelter at the Manville VFW.