Hurricane Florence: What it Was Like as a Student on the East Coast

One of the benefits of going to school on the east coast is living right next to the beach. For example, every time I mention my school to a stranger, they say, “Wow, you must go to the beach all the time!” That’s how you know it’s a major perk.

However, living right by the beach comes at a price: extra vulnerability to hurricanes and tropical storms. According to LiveScience, peak hurricane season typically runs from August to October, and boy did those months deliver some monster hurricanes this year. Wilmington surely felt the effects of such storms, Hurricane Florence being the primary culprit of its recent devastation.

The news of Hurricane Florence (before it was even named, most likely) first came to me from a coworker early in September: “I heard we’re supposed to get a hurricane next weekend,” he said to me casually. Like most, I brushed it off. We get pretty nasty storms all the time in Wilmington, especially during the fall, so his remark left me indifferent. If it was truly that bad, maybe class would be cancelled one evening at the very most.

However, a few days later, the university sent out a voluntary (and later, mandatory) evacuation notice. That’s when some of the panic set in. The only other time I remember students evacuating was during my freshman year when Hurricane Matthew surfaced and that was a particularly major storm. We were out of school that year from October 6 until October 12.

Before Florence hit, the idea of a few days or even a week away from school was exciting. For me, I saw it as an opportunity to spend some time with my family and catch up on my school work. Class had only been in for a little over two weeks at that point but I was already eager for a break.

But then I started paying attention to the news. Weather experts predicted Florence would make landfall as a Category 4 storm, directly impacting Wilmington and other parts of the east coast. My peers and I began to worry that we might not have a school to come back to when all was said and done. What would we do if the remainder of the semester was cancelled? With as much rain and wind as reports were predicting, there was no way UNCW could survive Flo’s expected wrath.

My family was even worried about what Florence could do to our home in Raleigh, a city two hours away from Wilmington. I began to realize how absolutely serious the situation was. Catastrophe seemed inevitable. For many days leading up to Hurricane Florence’s arrival, I sat by the TV and watched it move closer and closer to the east coast, feeling helpless, sad, and scared.

Thankfully, when all was said and done, Florence only made landfall as a Category 1 storm. While it still caused billions of dollars in damage, displaced a significant number of families, and led to the deaths of more than fifty people, Flo was not nearly as bad as what weather forecasters had predicted. For that, many east coast residents could finally let out a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, Wilmington had to do their best to pick up the pieces after Florence was over. In the days after the rain stopped, images surfaced of downed trees, flooded streets, and buildings with the windows blown out. A few buildings on UNCW’s campus, Dobo Hall in particular, were damaged beyond quick repair. Over one month after Florence first made landfall, crews are still working tirelessly on and off campus to make necessary reparations. It goes without saying that things will never be the same around here.

UNCW students were evacuated from September 11 until October 6, missing 20 instructional days. That's four weeks of class, washed away by Flo. I think I speak for most students when I say it was the most devastating and stressful four weeks of our lives. While the university did an excellent job of keeping us up-to-date with new developments and information regarding the state of campus and Wilmington as a whole, there was still a lingering sense of worry in regards to how the rest of our semesters would go. Additionally, students had no idea if their homes and apartments suffered any damage until they arrived back to Wilmington. Students who stayed in town were in the eye of the storm, likely worried for their lives at certain points. Not knowing how the future might play out proved especially taxing for all. 

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from the last month, it’s that the east coast is truly one of the best places to be. Sure, we are more vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes, but time and time again we overcome devastation and learn to hold our heads up high. While things around here are different now, the energy on campus and in Wilmington is more positive and hopeful than ever before.

Here’s to the end of hurricane season and to the (second) beginning of a good semester.  


[Photos courtesy of Lindsay Baker]