In the courtyard of the School of Communication, sandbags are stacked near the entrance of the building. Next to them are folded patio umbrellas that usually provide shade for students sitting at the courtyard tables when a hurricane is not churning toward Florida.
The university notified students and staff on Thursday that buildings were being secured in case Hurricane Dorian, expected to be a Category 4 of at least 130 miles per hour, slams the campus. University crews placed storm shutters and sandbags near doorways on the Coral Gables, medical and marine campuses. It also secured construction equipment and brought in emergency backup equipment in the event it is needed.
Administrators urged the UM community to also make hurricane preparations, including making any travel plans, purchasing basic supplies and preparing an emergency kit.
Some students during their Thursday afternoon classes were searching for flights out of Miami while taking lecture notes.
“My friends are freaking out,” said Maria Gabrielle Yamar, a freshman biochemistry major. “Most of them are buying plane tickets already,” said Yamar, who originally is from the Philippines. She and her parents, both UM employees, moved to Miami in 2011, are not planning to leave the area.
“I am starting to look at flights for destinations somewhere up north, like New York City,” said sophomore Anna Bonzano, a marketing major from Italy. She said Plan B would be to stay at her boyfriend’s “hurricane proof” house in Key Biscayne.
Elan Tran’s parents had purchased a plane ticket for their daughter to fly to Delaware, but the junior microbiology and immunology asked them to cancel it.
“I’m not worried,” Tran said.” I think at the most we will lose power in which case I’ll have to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as my meals.”
Expensive airline ticket prices – some of them close to $600 for a flight to many east coast cities, discouraged some students, including Elizabeth-Ann Gahinet, a junior political science major from Massachusetts.
“Do you know how expensive it is flying out of a hurricane? Do you think I’m rich? I’m ‘category five’ broke,” Gahinet said.
Lily Parmanan, a junior international studies major, lives in the Bronx, in New York, but will be on a 5 p.m. flight to Charlotte on Thursday.
She said all the tickets to New York were sold out or way too expensive.
Her father pushed her to purchase a flight for Thursday to any nearby airports. She ended up paying $442 for a one-way flight.
“I think the price of flights needs to be more accessible to everyone,” Parmanan said. “It’s unfair that those who cannot afford a flight are forced to stay here and hope for the best.”
Before she left she put a towel by the sliding door because she lives on the ground floor at an apartment complex off campus in South Miami. She also moved her furniture away from the windows. She is hoping that there will not be any damage to her apartment since she does not have hurricane windows.
Parmanan said the university should have canceled classes on Thursday.
“I feel that the university is being negligent,” she said. “Classes should’ve been cancelled today to give students enough time to evacuate. Instead, they have only cancelled classes for Saturday up to this point.
“I’m just very worried and hope we can resume classes as soon as possible.”
Logan Centner, a freshman sports administration major, complimented campus administrators on keeping students informed. A Canadian student, Centner said his family has an apartment on South Beach and that he and his older brother will stay there if the storm should approach South Florida. His “to do” list includes stocking up on necessities before the storm.
But the university’s emails so far have been like a blur for Suraya Buffong, 19, a sophomore from London.
“I have been too busy with classes and work,” Buffong said. “I see the emails but there’s no time to prepare while being a student.” He spoke earlier to his concerned grandmother.
“She told me to fly home immediately, but I don’t know about all that,” Buffong said.
Thursday found several staff and faculty also scrambling to make plans. Many talked about finding grocery store shelves depleted of basic food staples such as water and bread.
Dwayne Robinson, a senior administrative assistant in the Ungar Building, said he had to go to three gas stations to fill up his tank on Thursday.
“It was crowded, and the first one was out of regular gas…it’s hectic,” said Robinson, who still plans to drive to Orlando on Thursday for a friend’s wedding.
Sara León, a cook at Half Moon Empanadas at Dooley Memorial, said she knows that a hurricane could possibly strike South Florida – and she is prepared.
“Because I was born here, hurricanes in general don’t really surprise me, but it is always good to be prepared,” León said.
On his way to work as a front desk receptionist at Richter Library, Randy Chozckoll passes by construction at the library where hurricane-proof windows are being installed — a little too late for Dorian.
The freshman business analytics major, said he is experiencing his first hurricane – at least the hectic preparations for a possible storm. If the university asks students to evacuate, he said he will stay with an uncle in Fort Lauderdale.
Broadcast journalism professor Gina Presson, a new member of the School of Communication faculty, has been in Miami for only two weeks. She said she is following guidelines the university issued.
“Yesterday I went out and filled my car, and then I went to the grocery store and bought water and cane food,” said Presson, who also bought flashlights, batteries, gas, some fruits, bread, peanut butter and canned tuna.
Presson has a home in Tampa Bay and plans to leave South Florida as soon as she can to put away patio furniture and secure the house.
Presson said despite the menacing storm, she remains optimistic.
“I am always a little bit worried, but it’s worth it,” said Presson. “As a person said in a video today: This is the price for living in paradise.”
Jacqueline Lopez, Victoria Anzola, Mackenzie Trexler, Joseph Brandon, Jabria Roscoe, Joanna Ugo, Cinthya Franco and Jayda Graham contributed to this reporting.