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'You hope for the best': Students from Florida nervously await news on damage from Irma

As a weakening Irma moves north through Georgia and the Carolinas, Duke students from Florida are anxiously waiting to find out how the storm affected their houses and hometowns. 

Hurricane Irma battered Florida Sunday and Monday morning, inundating parts of the Keys, Naples and Jacksonville with its surges, as it ripped off roofs and obliterated trees. The Associated Press has reported five deaths in Florida, and millions of residents are in the dark without power. 

For many Florida students, the sight of the storm walloping their hometowns sparked feelings of helplessness and fear. 

Before making landfall Sunday morning, Irma forced the largest mass evacuation in Florida history. As the storm swirled up the state, students kept in touch with their families but had no way of knowing how much damage was done to their homes and communities.

In an email to students Sunday afternoon, Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, said he was stunned by the destruction from the storm and offered his support to anyone affected by it. 

“Many of you have family and friends affected by these [crises] and I can only imagine the stress you feel faced with your conflicting desires to focus on their needs while you face all your academic and campus obligations,” he wrote. 

Stressful indeed—by Monday afternoon, many families had not returned home and some students like senior Taylor Konrath still did not know whether their houses were completely intact. 

Konrath is from Marathon, a city in the Keys that was hit hard by Irma. She said her parents and siblings evacuated and were safe. Her uncle and aunt remained in Marathon during the storm, however, and she was relieved to find out Monday afternoon that they were okay. 

“Possessions you can replace,” Konrath said. “Lives you can’t replace.” 

Still, she remains unsure about the status of her home. She noted that it is made of concrete, so the structure should be okay. But whether the roof flew off or windows and doors were blown out is another question. She felt helpless about what she can do to aid her family as they find out more about the damage. 

“You want to think positively. You want to think minimal damage,” she said. “I’ve been there my whole life. Everything that I’ve ever known—it’ll never be the same again.”

Uncertainty is also gripping Kevin Coward, a sophomore from Key West. He is glad his parents are safe in Miami—up until Friday night, they actually planned on staying in Key West. However, he is still worried about his house because he lives along a canal and knows several people whose homes have flooded.

“It’s been nerve-wracking,” he said. “I just see there’s a lot of water and storm surge. Basically everywhere I’ve seen in Key West so far has gotten at least a couple feet of water.” 

Other students, like senior Donald Eklund, said they’re confident that their homes are okay. 

Eklund, a resident of Naples, has seen pictures that show his neighborhood did not suffer any major flooding or damage. He said he is thankful that Irma was not as strong as many predicted it would be. When he woke up Friday morning and saw the storm’s path shifted westward toward Naples, he feared the worst. 

“Hurricanes are just so unpredictable that you don’t know for sure what’s going to happen," he said. "It’s scary. There’s nothing you can do."

Now, Eklund is waiting to find out more about his house and the rest of Naples. He knows several people who live in areas that are at risk of flooding. He said his family may have to let some of them stay at his house if their homes suffered bad damage.

“I’m anxious about seeing the city,” he said. “But you hope for the best." 


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