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'A free break': Why Duke students left campus and where they went during Florence

Umbrellas bobbed along the Bryan Center plaza.
Umbrellas bobbed along the Bryan Center plaza.

Itamar Barak was taking no chances that week.

Barak, a sophomore from Israel, had never dealt with a hurricane before. With no ocean around his home country, he had no experience to draw on as Hurricane Florence barreled toward the Carolinas. His mother and his own reason told him to get out, and so he fled Durham for Boston.

“Duke was very good with canceling classes and declaring an emergency, so we have the chance to leave without the consequences of missing work,” Barak said. “And I just used that opportunity to get out.”

Due to the severity of Florence, the University canceled classes last week 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. With a four-day break from classes, some students took the opportunity to leave campus. Many quickly took different attitudes toward leaving Duke.

A meme was posted the Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens Facebook page, with the text “the legacies and 1% flying home to Manhattan” on a lifeboat, and “me: fighting a sophomore for West Union’s last crouton” captioning the Titanic, which was sinking in the background.

Barak, however, felt that staying on campus would not be responsible.

“What is really bothering me is that I think a lot of people don’t realize how dangerous it is,” Barak said. “The people that stay on campus were preparing—they bought food, they bought supplies—but a lot of people were staying because they didn’t even think it could affect them, and I think that’s irresponsible.”

Barak said that although he lives on West Campus, he was concerned for those living on Central Campus, since structures on Central are not suitable for strong winds. 

He noted that many students in the international selective living group Mundi left their section in Central for safer locations. Although some stayed with friends and family in the United States, others stayed closer to Duke.

“I know some people who actually booked hotel rooms,” Barak said, citing that the hotel would be safer than Central.

Barak also had concerns with flooding, loss of power and falling trees. After hearing about a mother and child killed by a fallen tree on their home, he was concerned.

“It’s a really scary situation,” he said.

Senior Audrey Ellis left Duke for her own home in upstate South Carolina.

“We didn’t get hit as badly,” she said. “But I mostly just went home to see my family because it’s a free break.”

She noted that she was concerned about driving, but not necessarily her safety in the storm.

Junior Pingyi Zhu went home as well. She noted that her main reasons for leaving were that Florence was not going to hit her home state of Virginia as hard, and that she only lived three hours away.

“I just decided to come home because Duke canceled school for the rest of the week, and I didn’t really want to be there if anything was going to happen,” she said.

She noted that although she did not want to be in Durham if it flooded, she left mostly because of convenience.

“If I didn’t live a driving distance away, I probably wouldn’t have gone home,” she said.

Ellis echoed this convenience.

“I just knew that it was time off,” Ellis said. “And if I went home, my mom would cook for me.”


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