FRIENDSVILLE – In the aftermath of Sandy, the small town of Friendsville in Western Maryland has been reduced to cold darkness.
Around town, “CLOSED” signs hung in windows Thursday and only a few brave people wandered the streets.
While Friendsville Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle met with Gov. Martin O’Malley in nearby Oakland to discuss widespread power outages caused by snow, three courageous women, and others, worked tirelessly to keep residents warm and fed inside a fire hall and a diner.
Sheryl MacLane, manager of the Friendship Heights apartment complex, and her mother Julia Sines, president of the Friendsville Ladies Auxiliary, teamed up to transform the Friendsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department into a shelter. Tammy Thomas, owner of Jubilee Junction diner, used her family’s personal generator to keep her restaurant up and running.
“We didn’t have electricity, didn’t have an elevator and my first concern was my tenants,” MacLane said. “My biggest concern is the elderly.”
The Friendship Heights complex, like much of the town’s 525 residents, is home to many elderly. Some of her tenants are in hospice care or in wheelchairs, making it dangerous for them to remain home alone in treacherous conditions.
So, MacLane contacted Sines, as well as Friendsville Fire Chief Terry Spear asking to turn the fire hall into a shelter for those without food or electricity. Spear was prepared for Sandy’s arrival and had a working generator, providing MacLane with the equipment she needed to keep her tenants safe.
Spear said friends, family and other Friendsville residents were checking up on those tenants choosing to leave the shelter and return to their homes at night.
“Garrett County people are tough,” Spear said. “This is a really tight knit town, everybody checks on everybody else.”
Superstorm Sandy bombarded most of the East Coast with deadly wind and rain, and buried parts of Western Maryland in two feet of snow. But Friendsville only got about five inches.
Unfortunately, because many power lines are on the mountainside where the snow was heavier and most of the trees still had leaves, the dense, wet snow weighed down branches and toppled trees onto vulnerable lines.
Though many of the Friendship Heights residents choose not to remain in the shelter overnight, MacLane said that it provides a safe outlet for those senior citizens who would otherwise be sitting in their homes in the cold.
“We’re having fun here,” Sines, her mother, said.
Sines spoke of how the owner of the local grocery store donated food and produce to the shelter when the store lost power. Considering the fire hall saw more than 50 people for breakfast Thursday morning, and similar numbers Tuesday night, Sines was grateful for the extra food on hand.
She also commended the AmeriCorps Red Cross volunteers who were dispatched to the shelter Wednesday.
“They are wonderful, oh my goodness,” Sines said.
Ina Hicks, an 82-year-old resident of the Friendship Heights complex, said she would not have known what to do if the fire hall had not opened its doors as a shelter. Though she thought she would be all right at first, she knew she had to go somewhere warm when she found herself trying to do paperwork in her home bundled in multiple layers.
“I felt like I could manage, however, it got pretty cold,” Hicks said. “But when my fingers and my nose turned cold I thought, ‘This is stupid, it can wait.’”
When asked what they would have done without access to the fire hall, MacLane and Sines looked at each other, shook their heads and laughed in unison.
“I don’t know what we could’ve done,” MacLane said.
A few short blocks away, Tammy Thomas was busy running her own safe haven of sorts. She and her husband own Jubilee Junction diner and decided, as a family, to bring their personal generator down to the diner in order to keep the kitchen up and running.
“We were able to share our generator instead of keeping it at home,” Thomas said.
She said the diner, similar to the fire hall, has provided residents with a place to warm up and enjoy a home cooked meal.
“They’ve been really grateful to have some heat and warm food,” Thomas said. “To know they’re not alone.”
The power outage has actually helped her business instead of hurt it. There have been many first time customers this week, both residents and visitors, she said.
“We’ve been serving power crews,” Thomas said pointing to a table of 11 workmen taking a break to eat some lunch. “We had the National Guard for breakfast.”
Capital News Service reporters Chris Leyden and Matt Fleming contributed to this report.