Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in Florida last week, devastating cities and impacting countless lives. Oklahoma Christian University students and faculty who call Florida home felt the effects of the storm.
Oklahoma Christian Registrar Stephanie Baird said she grew up visiting her family every summer in Homestead, FL. She said she thought of it as a second home, which led her to the decision to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. Because of her time spent there, she knows a lot of people who were affected by Hurricane Irma.
“I actually don’t know a lot about any damage that the city sustained during this particular storm, but I do know that the college closed, which I don’t know that they’ve ever closed and sent people home for a hurricane,” Baird said. “St. Augustine, since it’s a historic city it’s the oldest city in America, doesn’t have really drainage or plumbing in the old historic streets, it floods really quickly and really easily. I know that Jacksonville had record flooding, so just because St. Augustine doesn’t have that drainage, and it’s an old city and it’s at sea-level that was probably their biggest damage was going to be flooding.”
Baird said her stepbrother chose to stay in Florida and ride out Hurricane Irma rather than evacuate. She said she thinks some people stayed in their homes because they are used to hurricanes and wanted to maintain their houses and support their community.
“I think in general you’ll see a really positive response, and you have seen positive responses to people helping each other,” Baird said. “I know that’s one of the reasons that my brother wanted to stay is because when you’re at your home with your family on your property you can kind of take care of things as the storm is coming in.”
Junior Ashley Holland is from Geneva, FL — northeast of Orlando, FL. Although her family did not lose everything in the storm, Holland said it left a lot of damage in her hometown.
“There was a lot of flooding,” Holland said. “There’s just a lot of trees down. Power actually is still out — it’s been out for almost seven days now. I’ve had some of my friends whose cars had trees fall on them and on parts of their house, but thankfully I don’t know of anyone who lost everything, which isn’t the case everywhere in Florida obviously.”
According to Holland, this was the first time her parents have evacuated for a hurricane. Because the storm was so severe, Holland said she is unsure of what awaits her in Florida when she returns home for Christmas break.
“They actually ended up evacuating to Georgia which was scary, because we’ve never evacuated for a hurricane before, which meant it was something big,” Holland said.
Holland said it was difficult being at school while her family endured the storm. Because communication was limited, she said it was sometimes hard to stay in touch with her parents.
“It’s not fun,” Holland said. “I was here during [Hurricane] Matthew too and just not being able to be with your family, even if it ends up not being that bad of a storm, just not being able to be know every second of the day that they’re safe. During Matthew, and this time, I stayed up all night watching local weather just to see, which probably doesn’t help me but at least I feel like I’m doing something to be there.”
Although other students were less affected, they still faced real threats from the storm. Junior Jeffrey Edwards said his hometown in the Florida panhandle avoided a direct hit from Irma. He said there were some concerns initially, but in the end, his home made it through relatively unscathed.
“It wasn’t really affected other than maybe some fallen limbs on power lines and high winds and stuff,” Edwards said. “Stuff like that’s a little bit scary for my house because we have a ton of trees in our yard, and there’s plenty of trees like right next to our house, but nothing really happened with Irma that I know of.”
Sophomore Isabella Preciado is from Boca Raton, FL and said Hurricane Irma left its mark on her home. She said it was difficult to keep up with her family’s status during the storm amidst her busy schedule here at Oklahoma Christian.
“Where we lived there was a lot of fallen trees, and no electricity for a few days,” Preciado said. “It was honestly quite stressful because I just was very unsure of what was going on. Sometimes I got pretty busy and I didn’t really stay in contact with my parents and it’s like, ‘Aw man, I should be doing this but I’m not,’ so it was like somewhat of a guilt sense as well.”
According to Preciado, she has had little experience with hurricanes, because most of the bad weather has missed her home in the past. She said it was a scary situation, but people offered her a lot of support.
“I really appreciated a lot of people praying,” Preciado said. “Especially for everything that’s going on with Texas as well as Florida. That was just a sense of peace, a moment, because I was like, ‘Hey, there’s still people keeping the family in Florida and keeping just Florida itself in their prayers,’ so that was very nice.”
Preciado said it has been challenging being away from her family during this difficult time, but she is thankful for their safety. Because churches near the disaster area are helping out, she said she knows everyone will get the help they need.
“I guess to an extent I wish I was there with my family, just encouraging and being a support,” Preciado said. “At the same time I know the circumstances didn’t allow, so it’s okay though. Thank God they’re well.”