Unlike the hurricane scares of last year, the University and its population seemed to hardly give Katrina a second thought. While buildings were secured and some shutters put up around campus, students were expected to fight their way through rain and wind to attend classes until 6 p.m.
Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Katrina manifested itself into a hurricane much faster than forecast. She then decided to take an unexpected turn south, barreling down on students and staff who had just hours earlier been rolling their eyes at overanxious first-timers.
Perhaps it was due to their experiences during Charley and Frances, with students locked down for days with clear skies outside, or it was the excitement of the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards, but no matter what caused the complacency, the results were the same-people were severely lacking the general supplies for a hurricane, including food, water, batteries, flashlights and charged cell phones.
Although the closing of the campus Thursday night brought with it some confusion, such as whether or not 5 p.m. classes were cancelled, the University did manage to provide snack packs to students in the residential colleges and RAs worked hard to entertain residents, including an impromptu dance party hosted by DJ Rico in Mahoney and Pearson. When the power went out, generators soon restored electricity to the dorms, although students living in the apartment area and Holiday Inn were still left in the dark with no air conditioning.
While Katrina brought some damage to the University including leaks, a debris-strewn campus and the saddening downing of the banyan tree by the UC Rock, affectionately known as “the Big Tree,” “the Iron Arrow Tree,” or “the one with the smelly seeds,” we can only hope that she also taught us some lessons. While the strength of Katrina was impressive, it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Next time we should all revert to last year’s method of over preparing.
Not missing classes, even during the first week of school, should never be considered more important than ensuring the safety of students and staff. Putting students in the residential colleges on lock-down should be done sooner, rather than later, to avoid confusion in what can and can’t be done during the storm. A few days of having nothing to do but play board games and watch movies is really not a hardship. Coconut Grove and random house parties are not a safe harbor from gale force winds and falling power lines and trees. In addition, opening the campus and declaring it “safe and secure” when people are still mopping up their rain soaked rooms and having to scramble over tree branches may be slightly optimistic.
The University did, however, score points by immediately resuming shuttle buses for Holiday Inn and Eaton residents to get them to the dining facility which was allowing students, even those without a meal plan, to dine in the comfort of the air-conditioned Chartwells. Canceling classes on Monday was another good call-especially since many living off-campus were still unsure of when their power would resume.
The clean up has already started and it’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes to get the campus back to its former grandeur. Commuter students have to be crossing their fingers that the smell coming from the carpet in the first floor of the UC will disappear faster than Katrina’s wrath did. And of course, everyone’s hopes are high that this is the last hurricane we have to see this year, but if not, we cross our fingers that everyone at the University will be more prepared than this time.