When Hurricane Irma hit Florida on September 11, several members of the school community residing in the state were unable to evacuate and were forced to endure the storm.
Upper School Director of Health and Fitness Henri Andre was staying at his in-laws in Mt. Dora, Florida, when he learned his flight home was cancelled due to the impending storm. Having planned to return to Boston on the afternoon of Saturday, September 9, he wound up staying an extra five days.
From Monday night until Wednesday morning, Mr. Andre’s household lost electricity. Without air conditioning, the temperature in the house rose to 95 degrees, he said. While the family home sustained no structural damage, nearby streets flooded, local schools closed, and gas shortages led to police monitoring area gas stations.
Mr. Andre recalled how during the days leading up to the storm, people lined up outside store doors to buy gas, food, and water.
“The way they described it was so powerful, this master hurricane—it created a little hysteria and stress for many people,” Mr. Andre said. “The worst place where the storm would hit wasn’t precisely stated, so everyone had to be prepared.”
The experience elicited more sympathy in him for those affected by similar forces of nature in other, less equipped parts of the world, he added.
“You really feel for the people in third world countries, where you see the decimation because of the lack of structure and protection,” he said.
Less developed countries face a much greater aftermath, including displacement from homes and the propagation of diseases, he went on to note.
“We have the resources to resist these storms, but all the other affected islands, they faced dangerous, treacherous, life-changing situations,” he said.
Mr. Andre returned to school on September 15, a day after he was able to fly back.
Facing Irma in Melbourne on the east coast of the state, Matt Monsalve ’17, a freshman at the Florida Institute of Technology, learned his school would be cancelled September 8 through 14. He left campus on September 6 to drive inland for an hour and a half to a house his family owns in Orlando, where he spent the next morning engaged in storm preparations. He readied the house for flooding and glass breakage before driving onward another hour and a half to his aunt’s house in Tampa, on the west coast.
Due to conflicting weather forecasts about the direction Irma was heading, Matt then returned to his house in Orlando on Sunday along with his aunt and her family. There he prepared his passport and shoes and placed them in the pantry before going to sleep in fresh clothes that night in case he had to evacuate suddenly.
“It was scary because I have never had to worry about my stuff being okay,” Matt said.
“It kind of put things into perspective,” he added.
The only damage his house in Orlando sustained was a broken fence, but Matt later found out that back at his school, the auditorium had flooded. All the cancelled school days meant Matt’s exams were pushed back and make-up classes were scheduled for three Saturdays in the near future.
Claire Wagner ’17, a freshman at the University of Miami, also had to evacuate in the days before the storm.
In preparation, she closed the hurricane shutters in her dorm room, unplugged electrical items, and taped the refrigerator shut.
Claire’s mother had bought her a plane ticket back to Boston for September 6, a week before the storm hit just to be safe, but others she knew were not so lucky. By the time some of her classmates tried to buy tickets out of state, prices had risen to over $2000.
Altogether, Hurricane Irma knocked out power to over 6.8 million people in Florida and left flooding and damage throughout the Caribbean. Companies and individuals have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for hurricane relief, and the number is still rising.