For almost 12 hours, Elon University freshman Hannah Clements lost all forms of communication with her family after Hurricane Irma tore through her hometown of St. Thomas, the gateway isle of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
As one would expect, she was nervous. But the phone conversation she had with her parents after the storm did not help
“It looks like a bomb’s gone off,” Clements recalled her father said the day after the hurricane battered her home.
Hurricane Irma is the longest lasting Category 5 hurricane ever recorded. Its wind speed topped off at 185 miles per hour, while Irma itself covered 70,000 square miles, which is larger than the state of Florida.
Its path of destruction steered through the Caribbean and made landfall in Florida earlier this week.
Clements is part of the 4 percent of students with permanent addresses in Irma’s path.
According to an email from Jon Dooley, vice president for Student Life, there are 269 students with those addresses, ranging from Florida to Puerto Rico to the Caribbean islands.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency Sept. 4 in preparation for Irma. Originally, the storm’s trajectory had North Carolina in its path, but it veered east as the week progressed.
AccuWeather.com says Elon shouldn’t receive more than two inches of rain. But while this isn’t directly affecting the majority of students, Clements said she is doing everything she can to bring awareness to Irma’s damage.
And she wants other students to follow suit.
“Not everyone here is directly affected by Hurricane Irma, but everyone should be mindful that people are really affected,” Clements said. “And that these hurricanes are a serious threat and not a reason to throw a party.”
The last message Clements received from her mother was telling her to, “Pray we don’t lose our roof.”
Clements tried to use her classes as a coping mechanism to deal with the emotions she felt from the lack of contact with her family. When she finally heard from her father, she was overwhelmed.
“I forced myself to go to class just so that I wouldn’t have to sit in my room and wonder what had happened,” Clements said. “When my dad finally called to tell me my family was okay, it was just instant relief — I couldn’t stop myself from crying.”
Elon is more than 1,500 miles from St. Thomas, but Clements refused to do nothing after hearing about the devastation Irma had caused. She started a GoFundMe page to raise support for the Red Cross aiding in St. Thomas.
“It was the hardest thing to see pictures of St. Thomas after the hurricane, and to think that was home. That was where I had grown up and now there is nothing left,” Clements said.
The GoFundMe page titled, “St. Thomas Hurricane Irma Relief” is attempting to raise $10,000 for the relief effort, and on its first day raised $2,025.
And while donating is one way of helping, sophomore Dana Knowles, Long Island, Bahamas, resident, asks for more than just financial aid.
“Be considerate,” Knowles said. “Celebrating Irma because class might get canceled is just really inconsiderate. By saying those things you are making the people that have actually been affected feel like no one is taking their situation seriously.”
While the U.S. Virgin Islands were previously the focus of media coverage, attention is now turning to Florida, where Irma made landfall just this week.
Clements hopes the change in coverage will not leave the U.S. Virgin Islands and other places in the Caribbean isolated.
“People from the Virgin Islands are making such a big deal of the news not covering Irma there anymore because once it hits Florida it’s kind of like we are all forgotten about,” Clements said. “Even though we are U.S. citizens and a U.S. territory.”
Both Clements and Knowles were safely at Elon when Irma passed through their homes, but Knowles wished she could have been with her family.
“People keep saying, ‘You should be happy you were not there,’ but at the same time all the people that I love are there,” Knowles said. “Not being there is just awful. You can’t really understand what that feels like unless you have gone through it.”
It’s a stressful experience now being passed onto students with family and loved ones in Florida, a state expected to suffer extreme damage from Irma.
With her phone constantly buzzing with updates and messages from home, senior Lindsey Delorey, resident of Cocoa Beach, Florida, has been in distress as Irma made its way to Florida.
“I feel very helpless being at Elon, and not being able to handle it with my family,” Delorey said.
Gov. Rick Scott has had all 67 counties of Florida under a state of emergency for more than a month in preparation for Irma.
“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm and Florida must be prepared,” Scott said in an official news release from the Floridian Government. “In Florida, we know that the best way to protect our families in severe weather is to have a plan.”
The government has been preparing for Irma’s landfall, while most residents are more concerned about the hurricane’s aftermath.
“The biggest worry is not the wind, it’s not the rain — it’s the flooding,” Delorey said. “My town is really old. It’s not designed to handle flooding well and neither are our houses.”
And though Irma is disastrous for Florida, residents have been trying to keep their sense of humor.
“The running joke in my town is that Florida sent all of its supplies to Texas,” Delorey said. “So we are out of everything — it’s all in Houston.”
Florida has been taking the brunt of Irma’s damage, but South Carolina has been feeling the tropical storm’s effects, too.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen. First it seemed like the whole state of South Carolina was going to be hit,” said junior Caroline Resetar, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, resident. “Even though it turned west, the storm surges were a lot more than anyone expected.”
Resetar’s home survived the intense flooding caused by Irma’s rains, but she said the roads leading into Pawleys Island were closed for up to five hours because of the water build up.
With Irma continuing to touch the lives of more students as its heavy rains result in flooding, Delorey encourages all students with family in harm’s way to be transparent with students and professors at Elon.
“Let your friends know you are from Florida, let your friends know that your family might be in danger,” Delorey said. “It is so much better to tell people what you are going through instead of trying to do it alone.”