Normalcy and catastrophe: Hurricane Dorian’s impact on students

Veronica Madell, Staff Reporter

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“When you live there, it’s just a normal thing that happens. You evacuate, you come back, you fix the damages. It is just part of the culture,” second-year Case Western Reserve University student Savannah Walters says of her experience living in Charleston, South Carolina. She even remembers receiving a “super casual” booklet on hurricane procedures when her family moved to the city. 

This experience of catastrophe turning into normalcy has become commonplace for students living in hurricane-prone areas. However, for some areas such as the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian was anything but normal. Dorian was a Category 5 storm that stayed in the Bahamas for more than 40 hours. The death toll has risen to 50 people, and 70,000 are left without homes. Help is pouring in from cruise lines, airlines and the Coast Guard to aid in search and rescue as well as with supplies. Recovery is estimated to take years.

Dorian’s path continued across the Atlantic, where fortunately the storm weakened. It hit the coastal regions of Florida, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Canada as a post-tropical cyclone with a maximum of 57 mph winds. This still caused thousands of people to evacuate their homes. As Walters said of her hometown, “Everything shut down, no work, no school, no anything because you can’t go anywhere.” Walters’ mother had to evacuate her home and stay with friends in the northern part of the state, waiting to see what the damage to her home and town would be. 

Another CWRU student, Winston Kam from Lake City, Florida shared his similar experience during hurricanes. While Dorian did not touch down in Lake City, the town’s central placement in the state at an intersection of highways makes it a hub during hurricanes. Throughout hurricane season, the town’s fairgrounds store equipment from AT&T, Florida Power and Light, and other electrical companies, waiting for disaster to strike. In addition to sending out help, the town receives evacuees from coastal areas. During the worst hurricanes, the school gymnasium opens to house anyone in need of shelter. 

When Kam described putting planks on windows and the grocery stores selling out, he just shrugged. “We’re used to it.” He likened it to the snow in Cleveland; instead of snow days, they have hurricane days. During those days, he said, “You read, watch TV until the satellite stops working.” When the power goes out, you have flashlights. Walter’s mother had a similar experience during her evacuation. While stuck inside, all she could do was bake. She baked five batches of cookies and three pies. As Kam noted, after all the preparation, anticipation, and fear of a hurricane, it just becomes a rather boring waiting game, waiting to see just how bad this one would be. 

It could be the extra rain and wind that Kam’s town experienced. It could be the three feet of flooding in downtown Charleston. Or, it could be a Category 5 storm that takes away everything you know. One storm, Dorian, can manage to do all this. As Walters noted, the hard part is not knowing. After a storm like this, there is nothing left to say but this: “At least this time, it wasn’t catastrophic.”