Students Mobilize for Hurricane Relief Efforts

Hope Anderson ‘22

Staff writer and web editor

Hurricane Florence made landfall on the coast of North Carolina early Friday, September 14th. Since then, the storm and subsequent flooding have killed at least 42 people, according to The New York Times.

Though Davidson experienced minimal flooding and power loss, many areas across the state have been devastated. Some cities received up to 35 inches of rain, and communities along the coast are still working to address the physical damage.

Davidson held class as normal throughout the storm. However, Florence evacuated many other colleges and universities across the state. UNC Wilmington is the only public university still closed, but the school is tentatively scheduled to reopen on October 1st. University officials are  working to repair damaged buildings, and note that the return of students is still dependent on road conditions.

Ashley Frye ‘19 hails from Wilmington, NC. Her family was in a mandatory evacuation zone, but chose to stay in their home and, quite literally, weather the storm.

Frye thinks there is a misconception around the accessibility of evacuation, even during storms as serious as Florence. Possible barriers to evacuation include access to a car and finances to pay for a hotel.  “Something that my family took into consideration was that it would have been way too expensive to leave. They couldn’t justify the cost, and we were really lucky to even be considering that,” said Frye. 

Sheila Nunez ‘19, also from the Wilmington area, thinks some Davidson students trivialized the storm and the damage it caused many North Carolinians. “It was a little frustrating when people were like ‘oh, I hope school gets canceled for the hurricane,’ or were making jokes about the hurricane. Here it wasn’t serious at all, and I think people did get a little hysterical about it, but if you look four hours down the road, people are actually in a lot of pain,” said Nunez. “It quite literally hits close to home.”

Some faculty and staff remember being on campus almost 30 years ago in September of 1989 during Hurricane Hugo. Dr. Shaw Smith, professor of Art History, was beginning his time at Davidson when Hugo hit. Classes were canceled the day after the storm, which was a rare occurrence, since so many professors live within walking distance of the school.

Hugo had a visible effect on campus; around 200 trees fell down, costing the college up to $400,000 in damage. Smith said the loss of the trees was a bit demoralizing. “Once that got cleaned up, it looked relatively barren,” said Smith. However, since nobody was seriously injured, the community was able to enjoy the time off.  “It was a celebratory mood, because nobody was going to work,” said Smith. “People just emptied out their freezers; their best steaks were going to go bad. I remember going to a party, and this guy had a tree on top of his house. ”

Davidson College lost three trees during Florence as the result of excess soil saturation and water weight within the trees. There was also a short loss of power Sunday morning for buildings on the West side of Main Street. Physical Plant is currently working to fix small leaks in Chambers, Wall, Commons, and the Carolina Inn.

David Holthouser, Director of Facilities and Engineering at Physical Plant, is proud of the way his team handled the storm. “Florence showed that our preparation and training for weather and other emergencies paid off.  Our systems worked. We were able to respond effectively. The campus continued to run smoothly, and we maintained steady communication on campus and with our Davidson families across the country and around the world,” Holthouser said in an email.

Hurricane Florence peaked as a Category 4 storm, but weakened to a Category 1 by the time it reached the coast. Dave Backus, professor of Environmental Studies, said climate change is a huge reason Hurricane Florence was so devastating and one of the reasons why tropical storms in general are becoming more frequent.

As greenhouse gases trap heat, much of that excess heat is stored in the ocean, since around 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water. “More heat energy in the ocean makes it easier for a storm to increase in magnitude,” Backus concluded in an email.

Climate change also contributed to Florence’s intensity once the slow-moving storm had already formed. “As long as Florence sat near the coast, it had the capacity to draw on the heat energy of the ocean. That energy translated directly into rainfall,” said Backus. “Estimates of the additional rainfall contributed by climate change for Hurricane Florence are around 50%.”

Students at Davidson are looking to aid in hurricane relief efforts near and far from campus. Last Thursday, the Center for Civic Engagement partnered with Physical Plant to organize a volunteer campus cleanup during common hour. Students also helped tidy the Town of Davidson’s community garden on Saturday.

As for helping those along the coast, Civic Engagement Council Chair Samuel Owusu ‘21 thinks it is important to acknowledge both the strengths and limitations of college students. “It’s great to have the mentality of ‘yes, we’re going to go straight to Wilmington and send a busload of student volunteers,’ but volunteers aren’t equipped with the know-how to deal with everything that comes with [a natural disaster],” said Owusu. “The best way to do effective service is to get in contact with those in need and see what they actually need.”

The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) currently runs a food drive in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank based in Charlotte. Second Harvest sent the CCE an itemized list of current needs, including water, cereal bars, and peanut butter. Students can drop off supplies to donation boxes located in Lula Bell’s Resource Center and the Union Atrium until September 28th.  Students interesting in further helping Florence relief efforts are encouraged to explore the CCE’s OrgSync page, or to contact Samuel Owusu or Taylor Brendle.

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