More than 2,000 Ocean City evacuees arrive in Baltimore area

More than 2,000 Ocean City evacuees have arrived in the Baltimore area for temporary housing during Hurricane Irene, as part of the state's preparations for the storm.

Six hundred foreign exchange students traveled in buses from Ocean City on Thursday night and stayed on cots in Burdick Hall, a gymnasium on the Towson University campus, said John Hatten, director of emergency operations for Maryland's Department of Human Resources.

In Owings Mills, 395 more students are being housed at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore, while 1,000 to 1,100 are staying at the 5th Regiment Armory near Bolton Hill, according to Hatten and human resources department spokesman Ian Patrick Hines.

The students were relocated as part of the state's mandatory evacuation of Ocean City in preparation for Hurricane Irene. The evacuees are all foreign students who had jobs with Ocean City merchants and other businesses, and have no relatives in the United States and nowhere to go in an emergency. They come from places including Poland, Turkey, Ireland, Romania and the Far East.

At the JCC's 150-acre campus in Owings Mills, two gymnasiums were filled with cots where evacuees could sleep and store their belongings. The students, most ranging from their late teens to the mid-20s, could swim in the outdoor pool, lounge in the courtyard and even play soccer on outdoor fields. Some of them had laptops and cellphones, which they used to contact relatives and follow news about the storm.

As of Friday afternoon, the grounds of the JCC seemed like part summer camp, part United Nations.

Raluca Toma, a 21-year-old engineering student from Romania, said she was working Wednesday as a front desk clerk at Ocean City's Americana Hotel, helping guests who wanted to leave town early because of the storm. On Friday, she was relocated herself. She said she had only two hours to pack a few belongings and board a bus to Baltimore, but she was doing well. "I like it here," she said.

Another Romanian student, Andrea Bodor, said she was working as a restaurant server in Ocean City and missed the tips she was counting on for when she returned to Romania as a graphic design student. "So far, this experience has been fun" she said. "But when you're losing hours working, it's not so fun."

Some students said they wished they could get to a shopping center to buy cigarettes and additional clothes. Diana Ukimetova and Madina Igibayeva, both from Kazakhstan, said they didn't have swimsuits for the pool, and Ukimetova had only long pants.

"It's very comfortable," Ukimetova said of the surroundings. "We have a bed, blankets, a shower, Wi-Fi."

"But we need a shop," Igibayeva said. "It's very hot. We need bikinis."

Hatten said the students will be in their temporary quarters "for the duration of the storm." He said some had time to pack some belongings while others came with "the clothes on their back" and little else.

The temporary shelters — all gymnasiums or other public facilities with restrooms and showers — were predetermined as part of the state's emergency preparedness plan, Hines said. He noted that the last time Ocean City was evacuated was 1985.

State officials said they did not have a figure for what the relocation effort will cost.

Hines said the students' return time is contingent on how much damage Ocean City suffers. State officials will assess conditions in Ocean City before sending students back, he said.

Carol Dunsworth, a spokeswoman for Towson University, said the campus has agreed to house the Ocean City evacuees for up to three days after the storm has passed and has also moved back its arrival dates for students coming to campus for the fall semester.

The American Red Cross and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency were working with representatives of the evacuation sites to provide cots, blankets, food, health care, counseling and other services for people who were relocated, according to Red Cross regional communications officer Douglas Lent.

Lent said one of the students' most common questions is how long they will be in temporary quarters, and no one has a firm answer to that.

"It's a shock to their systems," he said. "Here they are in a place they don't know, and it's not their native language, and they don't know when they are going back. We're trying to help them through it."

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