PORTLAND — Patricia Steffens said that when a major storm hit the area several years ago, she was urged to leave her Portland apartment. Steffens didn’t heed the warning, and a tree fell on the building.

Although she and her pets escaped injury, she decided not to take that risk again.

As Tropical Storm Irene moved into Maine, Steffens sought shelter at the Portland Exposition Building on Park Avenue with two of her cats and her dog, Sadie, in order to stay safe.

“I did not ignore (the warning) this time,” Steffens said Sunday. She said she wouldn’t be leaving the Expo for her Locust Street apartment until she was sure the worst had passed.

The city opened the doors of the Expo at 8 p.m. Saturday for residents to find shelter and basic necessities, including food, water, cots for sleeping and assistance from a registered nurse and city staff. About 25 people were staying or dropping in Sunday morning.

The Portland shelter was one of about 30 storm-related shelters operating in Maine on Sunday, including six in Cumberland County, said Amy Faulkingham, resource coordinator for 211 Maine.

Shelter populations were generally low, with most shelters in southern Maine reporting only a handful of occupants, said Jason Shedlock, regional spokesman for the American Red Cross of Maine.

Steffens said the Portland shelter staff “couldn’t be nicer.” The city helped her get food and cat litter for her animals as well as providing her a safe and dry place to ride out the heavy rain and winds.

Chris Farwell, an event coordinator who helped staff the shelter, said people were waiting at 7 p.m. Saturday for the Expo’s doors to open.

Depending on the storm, the shelter will stay open at least through early this morning, he said.

The Expo, more commonly used for sporting events, music concerts, and other large community gatherings, hosted card games, conversations and coffee and breakfast Sunday morning.

Tracy Brown of Portland said she arrived Saturday night and will stay until the weather clears.

“This is the place to be,” Brown said. “They went all-out.”

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones stopped at the shelter Sunday morning as he made the rounds of the city to check on conditions. He said there did not appear to be any serious problems, and he praised the efforts of city officials to prepare for the storm.

“It was a really good move to open the shelter,” Mavodones said.

He also said he hoped residents would check on the well-being of their neighbors as the storm passed through the city overnight.

Staff Writer Ellie Cole can be contacted at 791-6359 or at: [email protected]