United Community Ministries shelter resident Micheal Wilkins helps set up cots Monday in the dining room of the shelter. The American Red Cross supplied the shelter with 10 cots due to the below freezing temperature expected on Monday night.

Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

United Community Ministries shelter resident Micheal Wilkins helps set up cots Monday in the dining room of the shelter. The American Red Cross supplied the shelter with 10 cots due to the below freezing temperature expected on Monday night.

Area braces for bitter cold weather

By Brie Handgraaf

Staff Writer

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The cold temperatures and gusty winds forecasted for the area have local organizations preparing for an increase in need.

“We are prepared to open our doors to anyone in need,” United Community Ministries Executive Director Chris Battle said. “If people need to come in from the cold, we’ll have the soup kitchen room serving as a makeshift dormitory. Typically we don’t have overnight staff, but we will in case someone tries to make it and it is too cold, there will be someone there to receive them.”

The shelter on McDonald Street can house 50 people and is at capacity, but a partnership with the city of Rocky Mount and American Red Cross yielded 10 extra cots that will serve as emergency bedding for those in need. A white flag is also flown at the shelter to indicate the extra capacity.

The American Red Cross always has volunteers and staff on-call to respond to fires, but especially during cold stretches when residents take risky shortcuts to heat homes. American Red Cross Regional CEO Lynwood Roberson said he has seen a number of residents use candles, stoves and even grills to heat their homes, which can expose people to carbon monoxide poisoning. Overloading circuits and not removing combustibles such as rugs from the area around space heaters also are prevalent fire risks people take during cold snaps.

“We see creative heating solutions increase during cold weather,” Roberson said. “With the economy and utility bills, they try to do something on the more affordable side, but the methods they often try are definitely not safe.”

Roberson said it is important for residents to turn off heaters when not in the room or going to sleep as well as reading manufacturer recommendations. Checking in with elderly neighbors also is essential during cold weather as is covering any exposed skin and keeping hydrated throughout winter.

“If you have animals that must stay outside such as horses, make sure they have hay or some sort of bedding to stay warm. If you have dogs and cats, bring them inside out of the cold weather,” Roberson said. “Extreme cold is like extreme heat in that you should avoid exposure to the outside if you can.”

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday with temperatures expected to fall into the teens overnight with persistent winds bringing the wind chill to zero-to-negative 5 below zero. The highs for Tuesday are expected to be in the mid-to-upper 20s and dipping back into the teens for Tuesday night.

These cold temperatures also can cause exposed pipes to freeze and burst, so officials recommended letting faucets drip and prepare for cold weather by insulating pipes with foam covers. If a pipe is frozen, use a hair dryer to start to thaw pipes and contact a plumber.

School districts have announced a delay to Tuesday’s schedule, including Edgecombe County Public Schools which will operate on a three-hour delay. Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools will operate on a two-hour delay.