Students Sat on Edge as Irma Hurtled Toward Their Homes

Power lines were severely damaged by fallen trees, closing off several streets, including Ridgewood Drive NE (Top), in Dekalb County Tuesday Morning.A large tree fell on Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church (Bottom).

Before Irma pummeled into Georgia, knocking down trees and leaving thousands without power, the then-hurricane ravaged Florida and Caribbean islands, places that some Emory students call home.

Category 5 Hurricane Irma hit Cuba Saturday morning with maximum wind speeds of 160 mph and a 10-foot storm surge, according to ABC News. Kenny Igarza’s (19C) father, grandparents and cousins weathered out the storm on their native island and don’t expect to have power restored for “a couple months,” Igarza told the Wheel. Igarza’s family vacation home had its roof blown off, with most items inside the home destroyed by water damage.

“[The hurricane] knocked out the majority of trees where I live,” Igarza said. “The property didn’t get damaged, but the yard was awful. My family owns two houses right by the beach, and they suffered a lot of damage.”

Igarza said he was unable to contact his mother and brother, who live in Naples, Fla., which was in the direct path of Irma, from Sunday afternoon until Monday evening. Naples received the highest reported wind gust in the United States at 142 mph, according to CBS News.

“I know that my family is very resilient, and I’m not one to care about material property. … It’s just the anxiety of not being able to communicate with them and having no idea what’s going on,” Igarza said Sunday evening.

Considering her “backyard is the gulf of Mexico,” Emily Dean (19C) said she felt lucky that her home in Tampa, Fla., sustained minimal damage.

“At first, we weren’t supposed to be hit at all, but then we were told we were going to get hit directly,” Dean said. “Last minute, [Irma] shifted to the East, but my family already had the house all boarded up with hurricane shutters and [had] moved our cars onto lifts.”

Dean said that she was “stressed and worried” about her family’s decision not to evacuate, but by the time Irma reached Tampa, the storm had weakened to a category 1 hurricane, according to USA Today.

Eric Zepeda’s (20C) family also decided to not evacuate their home in the coastal town of Port St. Lucie, Fla., two hours north of Miami.

“My family is all right, just a little bit of roof damage, a few shingles flying away and fallen trees and flooded streets,” Zepeda said, adding that as lifelong Floridian residents, his family members have experienced multiple cases of extreme weather including Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina, both in 2005.

Some Emory students offered on Facebook to house Florida evacuees, such as James Kennedy (18C) and his roommate Jeffrey Haylon (18C). Kennedy told the Wheel that no one had taken up their offer.

The powerful storm left a trail of destruction on Caribbean islands including St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda, Anguilla and Cuba, which was flooded for more than 36 hours, according to CBS News.

Although Florida sustained less damage, the hurricane still prompted the largest evacuation in the state’s history, according to The New York Times. Gas shortages were common throughout the state, peaking in Gainesville, where 70 percent of stations were out of gas, according to GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel availability.

In wake of the hurricane, Assistant Vice President for Community Suzanne Onorato sent out an all-Emory email on Sept. 8 to offer resources including the Emory Helpline, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life and Student Intervention Services.

Associate Director of Media Relations Elaine Justice told the Wheel that the number of students, faculty and staff members who reside in Florida was unavailable.