Amid the Aftermath: Florida Students on Hurricane Ian

Author: Katherine Holtz

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To outsiders, hurricanes evoke widespread panic, promising permanent damage from high winds and flooding. However, some Floridians have a different perception of the natural disasters because of the sheer number of hurricanes that hit Florida every year during hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30. 

Every year, viral memes circulate the internet about the Southeastern supermarket chain Publix selling hurricane-themed cakes amid the threatening storms. There’s a dominant perception that Floridians, known for throwing “hurricane parties” or celebrating “hurricane days” off from school, are unfazed by the storms. 

“Our last really bad hurricane season was in 2004, which I was too young to remember. As a result, I’ve never really been worried about hurricanes growing up,” first-year Reed Fowler said. The storms typically aren’t as powerful when they reach his central Florida home, he added, as when they first make landfall. 

Senior Sarah Berland, who lives in Lake Nona, a neighborhood of Orlando, Florida, echoed this sentiment. Berland moved from Connecticut to Florida in 2015 and quickly noticed the attitudes surrounding hurricanes from state to state are drastically different. 

“When Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy came up the (East) Coast, everyone was super panicked, super worried, because we don’t have the infrastructure or the drain system. So that was super intimidating. But since moving to Florida, it’s so much more chill,” Berland said

Hurricane Ian, however, was a different story. It was the second major hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, preceded by Hurricane Fiona. On Sept. 28, Hurricane Ian first made landfall on the coast of southwest Florida, where it unleashed fury in the form of 150 mph winds and flooding. The storm was a category four hurricane at the time, hitting Fort Myers and then rampaging through central Florida and Orlando. After running through the state, it advanced to the Atlantic Ocean before hitting East Coast states such as South Carolina. 

The storm resulted in over 125 deaths and wreaked havoc with its high winds and flooding. Areas in Florida around the coasts and near major lakes suffered the worst in terms of flooding. Daily cleanup efforts are still in force because of the storm’s aftermath. Some of the damage still looks the same as it did a month before, when the hurricane first made landfall. 

Diane Medina Batista, a junior from Naples, Florida, a city on the Gulf of Mexico, said that she had trouble focusing on classes and exams the week the hurricane was going to hit. 

“Whenever I’m in Naples and I hear that a hurricane is approaching, I get a bit nervous, but having my family nearby makes me less concerned,” she said. “However, now that I’m in college, it makes me incredibly worried to know that they are going through a hurricane while I’m a thousand miles away. Since contact is often lost during hurricanes, it only adds to this concern.” 

Luckily, her family fared well. Although her grandparents had some water damage to their house, everybody within her family remained uninjured. “It was terrifying to lose contact with them, but I’m glad that they are all alive,” she added. 

Central Florida did not have as severe damage as Southwest Florida, but it was worse than anticipated. 

First-year Katie Compton, who lives near the inland city of Winter Springs, said that the water from Lake Jesup, a nearby lake that is approximately 16,000 acres, expanded significantly from the flooding. Compton observed flooding weeks after the hurricane when she returned to Florida for fall break. 

“The biggest thing I noticed (was that) some houses around the Winter Springs area where I’m from got flooded from Lake Jesup, and there’s a huge alligator population there. So I don’t know if it caused any issues with that, but I wouldn’t be surprised,” Compton said. 

Berland also noted how the Orlando area faced more damage than anticipated. “I think everyone thought the hurricane would go down to a category three or something, but it bordered a category five.”

 Berland’s personal circumstances made Hurricane Ian even more terrifying, especially when she was thousands of miles away from home. On top of worrying about her house and family being safe, she had to worry about whether they would be okay in the hospital. She heard that her family had a medical emergency right before the hurricane curfew and lockdown. 

“The hospital that my family was in, thankfully, only got minor flooding. But there were other hospitals nearby where the whole first floor was flooded, and they had to move up the patients to a different floor,” she said. “That was one of the biggest shocks to me about this hurricane that’s different from the other ones — the sheer level of flooding.” 

Fowler emphasized that the hurricane wasn’t too bad for his family. Although Orlando got around 15 inches of rain, the winds were not as high when Hurricane Ian reached Orlando. 

“The winds were relatively subdued, which kept damages to a minimum. I live in a neighborhood with big live oak trees, so high winds can be a recipe for disaster,” he said. 

Although she has always lived in Florida and has experienced multiple hurricanes before coming to college, Compton said it was a fear of the unknown that made Hurricane Ian different from others. “After coming here and seeing how everybody reacted to the hurricane and their concern for it, which is partly because everyone at Notre Dame is so nice and compassionate, I was like, ‘Oh wait, this is a really big deal actually.’” 

Floridian students relied on support networks amid the threatening storm, even when they might have feared the unknown. Berland said that rectors, ARs and RAs from her residence hall, Walsh, sent out emails about Hurricane Ian, asking if students needed help during the troubling times. Medina Batista noted that her friends were her central support system, especially the ones from Florida, because they understood the level of damage that comes with a hurricane of this magnitude. 

Compton felt surprised because hurricanes are more normalized in Florida. In the Midwest, however, friends and professors constantly checked on her the week Ian hit. 

“We went to a Moreau class where a priest was doing a special thing (for our class), and he went around and asked where everybody was from. (For) everybody who said they were from Florida, he asked if they were okay and if our families were okay, which was super thoughtful,” she said