A Rhode Island provider is thanking its lucky stars that it had practiced evacuation drills after a recent loss of heat forced the facility to activate an emergency plan.

St. Clare Newport evacuated all 87 of its residents last week when it lost its heat amid a regional gas outage, during single digit temperatures. The continuing care retirement community had prepared for such circumstances previously, running drills twice a year. It coordinated with the Rhode Island Mutual Aid Coalition during the gas shutoff, the Newport Daily News reported Friday.

Administrator Mary Beth Daigneault told a local TV station that it was the largest evacuation ever handled by the coalition, but also “one of the smoothest.”

“This could’ve been a nightmare,” Daigneault said. “An absolute nightmare.”

Ambulances, vans and nursing facility vehicles all lined up outside of St. Clare Newport Jan. 22 to begin the exodus. All told, 54 nursing home residents were transported to SNFs across the state as far as Coventry, which is almost 30 miles away. Another 33 assisted living residents needed alternative accommodations, with about half picked up by family members.

Officials used the parking lot of a nearby garden center as a staging area to assemble vehicles and avoid gridlock.

Low gas line pressures forced utility company National Grid to shutdown service to about 7,100 of its customers, mostly in Newport, last week. St. Clare relies on gas for its heat, water and stoves, making the evacuation absolutely necessary, officials said.