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Weathering the storm: My (out-of-state) state of mind

by ALEXANDER ROLLE

Hailing from The Bahamas, I have experienced my fair share of tropical storms and hurricanes growing up. Some were agreeable to the country, leaving a freshness in the air that only winds and rain of that magnitude can bring, and others a bit more destructive; but the community always came back stronger.

I chose to stay at UT during Hurricane Irma, confident in the school’s emergency protocol and the provision of resources such as food. However, as safe as I did feel, there was a large part of me strongly perturbed for my loved ones back home. Hurricane Irma was my first time experiencing a natural disaster away from my family and with the sporadic changes of the storm’s path throughout its duration, my mind was in tangles. What predicted path was the storm going to take? How many Caribbean countries were going to be affected? Were my loved ones safe?

My suitemates left UT for the storm. They all expressed their best wishes for my safety, and I felt comfortable being alone. Some kindly offered me accommodation for a few nights, though it was mutually agreed upon by my parents and I that it was best for me to stay at UT. Some of my peers who attend other colleges in Florida opted to go back home to my hometown of Nassau to endure the storm with their families. Between flight prices and dealing with the logistics of trying to traverse the airports, it seemed more reasonable to get comfortable and hunker down in my dorm.

Before the storm, the Tampa Bay Times released an article on the chaos brought by Hurricane Irma as it pertains to booking hotels and travelling. Staff Writer Justine Griffin wrote that “Flights [were] either completely booked, unavailable or very expensive. A couple of flights on Delta to the Chicago area taking off on Thursday would cost more than $1,500 round trip, according to booking searches on travel websites like Expedia.com, Kayak.com and even on Delta’s website.”

It was much to my dismay that The Bahamas was due to receive the brute of the storm at a whopping Category 5 before it made landfall in the mainland U.S. My family and friends back home were efficient in gathering the necessities to ride out the storm. Many of my loved ones including aunts, uncles and individuals from my church back home sent messages directly to me or through my parents, praying for my safety and wishing my school received as little damage as possible. Emotionally it was very comforting to know that in the midst of their own preparations they found the time to send their warm regards. I received frequent calls from my parents, keeping me updated on their progress in preparation for the hurricane, and also questioning me on my own preparations. My parents made a proactive trip to Walmart before they left me in Tampa during move-in, to purchase necessities they would have trouble finding on the island. Some of my relatives made a discerning move away from the coast to my parents’ house prior to the storm’s arrival.

Mentally, I was not in Tampa. Memories flooded back of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm that hit The Bahamas last October, leaving the islands, including my own, in disarray. For an extensive period of time, my family and I were limited to only eating non-perishable foods that we had bought, and we were unable to travel far from our home due to downed power lines and fallen trees on the streets. Hurricane Irma was projected to be the worst recorded hurricane to hit The Bahamas. Moreover, it would be as a result of the storm passing The Bahamas that Florida would not be hit as harshly; in other words, The Bahamas and Cuba would act as a buffer that would weaken the storm by the time it made impact to the state of Florida. You can imagine the mental dissonance I felt and battled as the storm made its choices of where to make an impact.

As the days progressed, Hurricane Irma shifted its predicted path, essentially “curving” The Bahamas. This was the best news I could hear at the time, but my mind  immediately returned to Tampa. I made the appropriate preparations for the worst-case scenarios. This involved moving objects away from the windows and ensuring my devices were fully charged in case of a power outage. Additionally, I packed an evacuation bag with my personal documents and items that I would want to carry with me in case a mandatory evacuation took place. I regularly kept in touch with family and friends both from UT and back home. That constant communication during the hurricane was integral to me feeling safe, and brought a new level of awareness to just how much people cared about me.

The morning after the hurricane passed I let out a sigh of relief. Physically, I was completely fine. My room received no damage and even though food options were limited to Ultimate Dining in Vaughn and a few dining options in Morsani, provisions were sufficient. The on-duty RAs checked up on me, taking my name and ID number and ensuring I felt safe and had access to what I needed during that daunting time. I slept like a baby during the actual storm; my nerves were pacified between the constant hurricane updates released by email, the thorough hurricane briefing by my floor RA, and being blanketed by the emotional support of my family and friends.

UT and the surrounding city fared the storm well, and now we can all look back and reflect on our individual experiences to equip us for potential natural disasters in the future. Personally, what I’ve taken away is that it’s crucial for me to create a healthy balance of concern for myself and for who I care about.

Alexander Rolle can be reached at alexander.rolle@spartans.ut.edu

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