Residents ranging from the elderly to college students wasted no time Sunday in evacuating to higher ground as shelters were opened across the region.
When the American Red Cross regional shelter at the East Lyme Middle School opened at 4 p.m. Sunday, people were waiting to get it.
Adele Sosnowski, 89, of Uncasville brought a pillow, afghan and a "bag full of goodies" with her, along with a sense of humor.
"I thought you might not allow people my age because this is a middle school," Sosnowski joked with intake workers.
Asked if she had any pets, she said, "just my Teddy bear, which I left at home."
Sosnowski could have stayed with her nephew, Paul Abramowicz of Waterford, who dropped her off at the shelter and waited while the workers made her comfortable.
But she preferred to go to the shelter, where she thought she might see some of her contemporaries.
"There's really a community atmosphere when you come to places like this," Abramowicz said. "Everybody's just riding out the storm together."
Shelter guests continued to arrive at a steady rate, carrying suitcases, blankets and in some cases, dog and cat carriers. The shelter is available to residents of New London, Montville, Old Lyme, East Lyme and Waterford and will remain open as long as necessary, said shelter manager Dawn Davis.
People can come at any time, she said, noting that during Irene, some who thought they could ride out the storm at home came running in through the wind and rain in the middle of the night. If possible, people should bring their own toiletries, blankets and pillows, she said.
Gloria and Frank Noto live at Hawks Nest Beach in Old Lyme, where there is a mandatory evacuation order. While town officials said they would not force residents out of their homes, the Notos didn't want to take a chance with the historical storm surge that is forecasted. Being able to bring their seven-year-old Chihuahua, Holly, to the shelter convinced them they were doing the right thing.
"Last year they had the (Tropical Storm Irene) and they called for us to evacuate and I said, "I'm not leaving her,'' said Mrs. Noto. "Then they said we could take her."
Workers and volunteers made the human shelter guests comfortable in the school gym, where they will sleep, and in the cafeteria, where they will eat and pass the time together.
Waterford/East Lyme Animal Control Officer Robert Yuchniuk helped with the four-legged customers. The animals are being housed in the hallway a level below their owners. The dogs will be kept separate from the cats, "so they won't bother each other," Yuchniuk said, and he had bags of food, water and crates ready to go.
Shelters started accommodating pets because many animal lovers would not leave without their furry companions.
"For some people, it's a deal breaker," he said. "They won't leave their house unless they can bring their pets."
In New London, the lower campus of Mitchell College was quiet Sunday, after the college had ordered students to evacuate the residence halls along Pequot Avenue near the water.
Neon green signs posted on the front doors announced the buildings were closed as of 3 p.m. as students found shelter in upper-campus dorms or other locations.
Dan Greene, a student from New Jersey, and his roommate had prepared supplies for the hurricane in their room facing the water, but had to leave Sunday afternoon.
"We were all set and then we got evacuated," he said.
Greene gathered his computer, clothes and essentials within 20 minutes - leaving the heavier futon and electronics in place for his return.
While he was staying in an upper-campus dorm, he said about half of the students in his residence hall went home.
Some college students said their parents were concerned about the storm.
"I'm fine about it, but my parents are really worried," said freshman Joslin Taber.
Sitting outside her dorm, Taber said she was planning on using the time to hang out with friends from her dorm.
Other New London residents were out preparing for the storm Sunday.
Resident Sue Thomas was walking her two dachshunds along Pequot Avenue Sunday afternoon to give them some exercise before holing up for the storm. The dogs were barking and running around her house all day because of the wind.
"It's either that or the full moon," she said with a chuckle.
Thomas, who had conversed with neighbors about preparing for the storm, said she felt there was camaraderie in her neighborhood.