Miami students worry for family members, take friends in
Hurricane Irma has been devastating the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands for the past week and is headed toward further destruction on the U.S. mainland in the coming days.
While the storm itself has been downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 3 hurricane, the southwestern coast of Florida was hit hard. The storm was eventually downgraded to a tropical storm in Tallahassee, but is expected to make landfall throughout the rest of the state as well as Georgia and potentially Alabama.
For the majority of Miami students, this storm, while a tragedy, remains a distant one at that–neither personally affecting them or their families.
For senior Ali Martin, alumna MarLyka Williams and junior Ryan MacAvoy, Irma is anything but a far flung disaster.
“The worst part for my family is that my grandpa has Alzheimer’s,” Martin said. “He’s not stable enough to travel and my grandma refused to leave him, so now they are both stuck in a hurricane shelter in Fort Meyers.”
Martin’s family, who live in Chicago, reached out to the police and fire departments in Fort Meyers, as well as the retirement community Martin’s grandfather lives, Shell Point, to see if there would be anyone still on call in the path of the storm to help those who had not evacuated the area.
“My parents called the police and they basically told them ‘we can’t do anything, we have to stay out of that zone,’” Martin said. “And that’s really hard because they might be fine, but also if anything were to happen the police, the firefighters can’t get there.”
Williams, who is originally from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, graduated from Miami last May and moved to New York to start her career the same week the hurricane devastated her hometown.
“On St. Thomas, our only hospital has been destroyed, our only two main post offices have been severely damaged, our two high schools were severely flooded and partially destroyed,” Williams said.
Williams family and friends remained relatively unscathed from the storm’s destruction, her family’s home is mostly intact, however there is limited cellular reception on the island and the power is out for the foreseeable future.
One of MacAvoy’s friends from home (he is originally from outside New York), Anthony Abbondanza, a junior at Florida State University (FSU), called MacAvoy to ask his friend if he’d consider letting Abbondanza and four of his fraternity brothers stay with MacAvoy in Oxford.
“Anthony is one of my best friends from home and it was a chance for them to come out here and to give them shelter here at Stonehouse (the house where MacAvoy lives in Oxford) and show the good side of Greek life, because their frat house was evacuated,” MacAvoy said.
Chris Riano, a junior at FSU and a Miami, Florida native was shocked at how severe Hurricane Irma struck Florida.
“We knew once they started setting up FEMA tents it was going to be bad, our [university] president, Thrasher canceled school for a week and most of our friends evacuated to New Orleans,” Riano said. “There are still 45,000 people in Tallahassee without power.”
While the efforts of MacAvoy and his fellow fraternity brothers in Sig Ep to take in stranded college students from Florida are honorable, they are few and far between.
Martin spoke of the general apathy many have when tragedies like Irma occur, because many people do not have a personal connection to the storm or the chaos it creates.
“I know so many people down [in Florida] who just won’t have any homes to come back to,” Martin said. “We need to give back and donate whatever we can, even if this is not personally affecting you.”
For the U.S. citizens on the Virgin Islands, the situation is even more dire.
“What many don’t realize is that Caribbean people can’t simply evacuate in the event of a catastrophic storm. There are no roads leading them away from harm, they have no choice but to sit and wait the storm out,” Williams said.
As of right now U.S. warships have made their way over to the Virgin Islands and are rationing out supplies. Families on the island are limited to one 24-pack of water every three days, with authorities trying their best to equally dole out resources to the community.
Williams is frustrated by the lack of news coverage her home has been given in the days following the storm’s landfall.
“In places like the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. networks will cover an entire storm while only discussing whether or not it will impact the continental United States,” Williams said. “My home is a U.S. Territory with over 100,000 U.S. Citizens, and the impact Hurricane Irma has had on our islands has gone largely ignored by major news networks.”
The five Phi Kappa Tau members from FSU have enjoyed their time at Miami so far, Oxford being the birthplace of their fraternity, but are still a little shaken by the whole situation.
“It was between here and Colorado,” Abbondanza said. “It was a much shorter drive to Oxford, we just had to go north. They said [Irma] was going to hit [Tallahassee] anywhere between a Category 3 to a tropical storm, so we were just thinking the worst.”
Despite Martin and Williams’ anxieties and frustrations about not being able to physically protect or help their loved ones, they both urged the Miami community to step up in any way they can.
“What I find strange is how easy it is for so many to look to the Caribbean as their destination vacation paradise,” Williams said. “But when we need help such as relief or aid in the wake of a natural disaster they fall on deaf ears who no longer see the value because it no longer directly affects them.”
Williams suggested to those looking to make a difference and help the people of the Virgin Islands to donate to the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI).
“I feel helpless, because there’s nothing my family or I can do to evacuate my grandparents,” Martin said. “But even if every student at Miami donated money to any charity that provides relief we could start to make an impact.”
MacAvoy also added that while not many students are in the position to host five random guys from FSU, the Miami community should do anything they can to support the people who were hit hard by Irma.
“At this point it’s not just about us, it’s hurricane relief in general,” Abbondanza said. “Do your part, even if it’s just a couple dollars here or a can of food there, just donate whatever you can and help the people that are in extreme need right now because what comes around goes around.”
This story was edited Oct. 2, 2017. The original version incorrectly referred to “Stonehouse” as the Sigma Phi Epsilon house at Miami.