Shelter opened for stranded travelers

Chelle Delaney

About 80 travelers found shelter Friday night at the Tucumcari Recreation Center because they couldn’t find any rooms at area motels, said American Red Cross officials.

Weary travelers were tucked in kaki-colored sleeping bags, like cocoons, on the floor of the basketball court at the rec center.

“We’ve been looking for a motel room for about the last hour and they’re all filled up,” said Maxine Messenger as she waited to sign in with Red Cross volunteers.

Retirees Messenger and her husband, Lee, were traveling Interstate 40 from Casa Grande, Ariz., to Sioux City, Iowa.

“I thought we were going to have to sleep in the car,” Maxine Messenger said.

The shelter was opened up about 6 p.m., said Brian Sapp, Roosevelt County Disaster Action Team Captain, who set up the shelter with three volunteers, Christine Sapp and Linda Roberts, also from Portales.

“We’ve got a church group here traveling to Amarillo from San Bernadino, Calif. There’s 24 of them, some of them young teens. They were glad to be together, and went in the back and played games. It worked out good for them,” Brian Sapp said.

The Red Cross volunteers brought cots and sleeping bags were available at the rec center, Brian Sapp said. Another group of volunteers had taken other supplies to Santa Rosa, where they had also opened up a shelter, he said.

Linda Leist of Lakeview, Mich., found an electrical outlet, plugged in her laptop computer and fashioned a desk of sorts on a short row of bleachers.
“It’s a nightly ritual, I like to play spider solitaire every night before I go to bed,” she said.

Leist said she and her husband, George, were traveling from Mesa, Ariz., back to their home in Michigan.

“We’ve been gone all winter so we wouldn’t be in the snow in Michigan and here we are,” Linda Leist said.

“We started in Gallup this morning and then sat for two and half hours on the Interstate about 30 miles west of Tucumcari. We only made 300 miles today,” George Leist said.

“Everyone’s been real helpful,” Linda Leist said. “My cell phone wouldn’t work and the lady at the Chinese restaurant let me use hers.”

Linda Leist said, “We’re warm and we have a place to sleep.”

The last time the rec center was filled with dozens of stranded travelers was during the New Year Holiday in 2007, when about 7,500 motorists and truckers sought refuge in Tucumcari because of snow storm.