Students watch Irma from afar



Life jackets for an adult and a child from the remains of the old Cumberland Queen Ferry, which sank, are part of the debris littering the flooded main street after Hurricane Irma swept through the area on Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in St. Marys, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

By Rachel Glasser | News Editor

Catalina Acebal remembers when Hurricane Wilma blasted the doors of her grandparent’s home open in 2005.

Her father and her grandpa rushed to push the family’s piano against the doors, stacking a few tables on top and taping the doors shut.

“For me it was like, I had no school, I was like coloring, you know,” Acebal said. “Growing up I didn’t really realize how bad [the hurricanes] can get.”

Acebal, a native Floridian and University of Southern California student, is currently studying abroad in Dublin. She has family in Key Biscayne — a barrier island of Miami — and Puerto Rico. She, like other students far from home, is anxiously tracking Irma and its destruction from afar.

Acebal called her parents yesterday and said her family traveled to a hotel farther inland in response to a mandatory evacuation. During the height of the storm, they left their room because debris was flying around outside the windows.

“They were all in lobby with my cat, my birds and my sister, and the hotel was pretty full,” Acebal said.

Malik Henderson, a junior administration of justice major, is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His family, who still lives there, decided to stay put for the storm. Despite losing power and sustaining flooding outside the house, everyone stayed safe and no significant damage was done to the house. Still, it isn’t easy for Henderson to be away from them during the storm.

“It’s a little worrisome,” he said, “especially because throughout my day I have to keep checking on them to see if anything has changed with the status of their safety and stuff.”

Louise Comfort, a GSPIA professor at Pitt and the former director of the Center for Disaster Management, said that this situation in Florida was well-managed compared to other storms, such as Hurricane Harvey, another recent major hurricane which hit Houston. Comfort said it boiled down to differences in geography and overall preparedness.

I honestly think Florida, first of all, it’s well-prepared in the first place, and the state has invested a lot of effort and money in preparedness efforts,” Comfort said.

Houston — where the land is already waterlogged due to swampy terrain and where people have built structures without anticipating such storms — was much more vulnerable, Comfort said. But looking ahead, Florida will still have to assess the damage and rebuild.

Comfort expects most cities will be cleaned and debris will be removed within two to three weeks. Getting the power back on, though, could take two to three months.

“Some of those inland cities, it’s going to be six months or more and then two years for places like Naples and Tampa Bay that suffered you know, a lot, of destruction,” Comfort said.

The continual monitoring of the projection of the hurricane’s path and the multitude of projections is what really impressed Comfort.

“People could not say they didn’t know,” Comfort said. “I think what was helpful with Irma was that they had a good four or five days to prepare.”

Allen Edwards, a senior administration of justice major from Miami-Dade County, also has family in Florida — all who decided to stay home. While the worst of the storm already passed, Edwards said when he talked to his family Monday they were driving around in search of an open store to buy food.

“It’s flooded,” Edwards said. “They can only go to certain areas because it really looks like an ocean out there.”

Aside from being overseas for this storm, where the time difference complicated communication with her family, Acebal said the experience was nothing new.

“It’s Florida, we’re kind of used to [hurricanes] at this point even though this is much bigger than what we’re used to,” she said.

Comfort said that people in informed and prepared states — such as Florida — act more rationally and more sensibly in the face of natural disaster.

“And I think you had the citizens in Florida taking informed action to protect themselves, their property, their neighbors,” Comfort said. “And that’s a good thing.”

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