Welcomed by storm

By Jessica Barzilay

Caity Murphy ’11 thought the worst was behind her midway through her first week of classes. She had moved into her dorm at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., met her roommates and started getting to know her fellow incoming freshmen. By Thursday, Aug. 25, however, the looming presence of Hurricane Irene turned from a mere threat into a disruptive reality for Murphy and her peers.

An Atlantic hurricane originating in the Caribbean, Irene wreaked havoc on the east coast as it moved all the way up to the Canadian coast. Irene made landfall over North Carolina’s outer banks on the morning of Aug. 27 and progressed to southeastern Virginia before reaching New Jersey the morning of Aug. 28. By the time it reached New York that same day, the hurricane had been downgraded to a tropical storm. From Aug. 26 to Aug. 28, Irene left considerable flood and wind damage along the eastern seaboard.

“I got back from class on Thursday and people were running through the dorms and packing,” Murphy said.

Forced to evacuate, Murphy was left with a few options in the face of the impending hurricane.

“I freaked out because I don’t have any family in Virginia and I didn’t want to impose on the people I had just met,” Murphy said.

Murphy’s friends beginning college on the eastern seaboard offered her housing as well, but her parents arranged for her to stay with their friends at a military base off campus.

“I would’ve been safe but I was already homesick and I didn’t want to spend it with people I didn’t know,” Murphy said.

As students caught the last train to New Jersey and buses stopped running, Murphy snagged a seat Friday on a flight to Los Angeles. By the time she entered the taxi to the airport, the storm was already raging all around her.

Murphy returned safely to school the next week, but all classes were postponed until Wednesday. 

Ranging from Murphy’s situation to more subdued effects, Hurricane Irene impacted the activities of some alumni, students and faculty located on the east coast. For the most part, however, Hurricane Irene presented a minor disturbance or logistical obstacle rather than a true threat to the Wolverines in its path.

Like Murphy, many members of the class of 2011 found themselves grappling with the effects of Hurricane Irene in an already hectic and overwhelming period of transition.

Near Boston, Jennifer Plotkin ’11 transferred her belongings from boxes to her new dorm at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the rain and wind, but she was most disappointed at the cancellation of freshman convocation, one of the school’s long standing traditions.

Tiana Woolridge ’11 had been at Princeton University since Aug. 21 for volleyball training, so she had no difficulty in arranging her travel plans to school.

“There was not too big of an impact for me personally, but it was a little scary for a girl from California who hasn’t seen rain for months,” Woolridge said.

More than just college freshmen dealt with the ramifications of Irene. Returning for her junior year of college to the University of North Carolina, Faire Davidson ’09 was prepared for power outages and unsafe roads.

At her location far from the coast, however, she said “the only noticeable difference was that a few trees had fallen down and disrupted the roads.”

Spanish teacher Javier Zaragoza (Andrew ’10, Cathy ’08, Laura ’06) struggled with the logistics of travelling to the east coast and navigating college move-in day for two of his children. He arrived in New York on Aug. 24 and left for New Haven soon after for Yale drop-off. After his Saturday afternoon flight was cancelled, Zaragoza was in Connecticut “as the hurricane hit with quite a force,” he said.

“Everyone was on panic alert and the stores and streets were crowded because the news reports were very alarming and the people were in a frantic mode,” Zaragoza said.

He and his wife moved from hotel to hotel to be closer to their children and to find an area in which the electricity was still functioning. Despite the disruption, he said he found the experience of being stranded on the east coast very meaningful.

“I must confess, I have never been in such a situation where we were completely out of control of our surroundings,” Zaragoza said. “It was pretty humbling. I actually walked around our hotel as the rain and wind were beating on the trees and buildings. I was experiencing a new sensation.”

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