Wilma stirs up campus

Students got a different kind of Fall Break when Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida on Oct. 26, causing massive power outages throughout the county and closing campus for a full week. While most of the University got power back within 24 hours after the storm, many areas, such as the School of Nursing and the houses on Fraternity Row, were still without electricity as of press time Wednesday.

“We’re very concerned,” Dr. Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs, said. “We’re working with the fraternities and some of them are getting generators.”

Whitely said that the school has been in contact with Florida Power and Light (FPL), the company expected to restore power to the areas by Thursday.

Meanwhile, many commuter students were affected by a lack of power, with the latest estimates by FPL pushing the dates for restoration as late as Nov. 22.

“The worst part is that I still don’t have power,” Eli Diaz, junior, said. “Now it’s getting hot and humid and we don’t have air. I didn’t fare so bad because my dad had a generator.”

According to Whitely, on-campus damage was minimal and cleaned up quickly. Because many of the University’s trees were downed during Hurricane Katrina, there was no significant landscape damage.

However, some dorms were affected. Four apartments in the apartment area experienced roof damage and leakage; the University has moved those students to other dorms until the damage is repaired.

“If property is damaged, we work with that particular student and with the department of residents halls,” Whitely said. “That hasn’t been the case with this hurricane, though. This was not a wet storm at all.”

In the Mahoney-Pearson Residential College, an elevator window blew out, but no students were injured.

Although the storm had passed through South Florida by the afternoon of Oct. 26, the campus was closed through the week, postponing all Homecoming Week activities and canceling classes, which resumed on Monday.

“[Canceling classes] was predicated on a host of issues,” Whitely said. “Power outages, traffic lights were out and our staff faculty, staff and students being able to get here. We wanted the campus to be cleaned up and we thought it was in the best interest of the community to close.”

With Wilma being the third hurricane to affect the University and cancel classes this semester, classes have been extended through the previously scheduled Reading Days and will end on Dec. 14. Final exams will be held during that time.

The University announced Wednesday that students who changed their airline flights due to changes in the schedule will be reimbursed for any airline fees in the form of credit towards the spring semester.

“I think [the administration] did well with canceling classes and rescheduling,” Yessenia Cardenas, senior, said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to handle it. I think they had the student’s safety in mind. They were very considerate of commuter students by giving us the week to let things calm down.”

But for some students, things haven’t calmed down.

“Commuters are having trouble getting to class each day,” Diaz said. “Some even had to charge their phones on campus just to talk to their parents.”

“For [residents] the campus was fine. We lost power for about 10 hours and got it back,” Taynisha Berenger, freshman, said. “The storm was scary. The wind was shaking the windows in Stanford. It was the worst hurricane I’ve been through and I’ve lived in Florida for 17 years.”

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at n.maldonado@umiami.edu.