By RACHEL COOPER
As around 1.7 million people were told to evacuate their homes in the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence, the University of Mary Washington prepared for possible heavy wind, rain and damage to the university. On Monday, Sep. 19, Hurricane Florence was a Category 4 storm and on a path to hit South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. So in preliminary preparation, on Monday night, UMW canceled all classes for Thursday, Sep. 13 and Friday, Sep. 14.
“University administrators acted with an abundance of caution and were guided by recommendations from our emergency and public safety experts,” said Anna Billingsley, Associate Vice President of University Relations, in an email. “These decisions were reinforced by state officials. The announcement of school closing was intentionally made early in the week so that students would have time to consult with their families on the best course of action.”
“In 2003, Hurricane Isabel caused the school to shut down for two to three days,” said Ruth Lovelace, Director of Emergency Management and Safety.
Hurricane Isabel is the last time UMW closed for a hurricane.
Many students talked with their families and debated whether or not they should go home for the hurricane four day weekend.
Junior English major Elisabeth DellaRova chose to stay at UMW because of traffic and train cancellations even though the hurricane was supposed to hit UMW more than her home in New Jersey. “I’m afraid that if I leave, I will get stuck at home and will not be able to get back by the time campus reopens,” said DellaRova. “I thought about taking a train home, but all the trains are canceled and the tracks will probably be impassable at the end of the weekend.”
Some students left school to be with their families.
“I decided to go home because of parents’ weekend being canceled due to the school closing,” said freshman Claire Coleman.
Although her town was expecting to be hit, she took advantage of the four day weekend to visit her family. Other students were happy to leave before the storm and unsafe driving conditions.
“I was already planning to come home this weekend, so since the school closed campus I was able to leave before the rain hit,” said senior math major Meagan Wilkinson.
For students like DellaRova who chose to stay on campus, the safety of these students was the main priority of the university.
“We will have extra staffing on campus at strategic locations. Each student should be encouraged to download the Guardian app… Everyone has a responsibility to exercise safe behavior and follow instructions provided by emergency management, law enforcement, and University officials,” said UMW Police Chief Mike Hall.
As the hurricane changed paths throughout the week, UMW sent out hurricane updates via email. On Tuesday, UMW issued a “shelter in place” plan which asked students to stay in their dorms from Thursday until the Emergency Operations Team determined it was safe. By Friday, the “Shelter In Place” advisory had been lifted as Hurricane Florence’s path changed and the risk of its potential effects on UMW was lessened.
The emails varied throughout the week in terms of what would be done about providing meals for students staying on campus. When the final hurricane update was sent out Saturday afternoon, it was determined that the campus had returned to normal dining hours.
“We have been working closely with Sodexo, our campus dining partner, and we are planning to continue regular dining services as long as possible,” said Hunter Rauscher, Associate Director of Housing and Operations. “If the UC has to close, boxed meals and snacks will be made available.”
Parents’ weekend was canceled due to the hurricane and will not be rescheduled due to a lack of available weekends in the fall.
In addition to classes and family weekend being canceled, athletics were greatly affected by the potential of the hurricane.
“Six home contests have been affected by cancellation or postponement,” said Interim Athletic Director Patrick Catullo. “Volleyball Wednesday night, women’s soccer Saturday, men’s and women’s tennis on Saturday and Sunday, and men’s and women’s rugby on Saturday. In addition, away contests for cross country, men’s soccer, women’s golf, and field hockey have been either postponed or canceled.”
The athletic department hopes to reschedule as many of those contests as possible. The volleyball team still traveled to their tournament in Ohio but moved their departure time up in order to avoid the hurricane.
Hurricane Update #5 from the UMW administration was sent out at 2:31 p.m. on Friday, Sep. 14 announcing that UMW was no longer expecting to be impacted by Hurricane Florence. Simpson Library, Hurley Convergence Center, the Fitness Center, the Tennis Center, and the Bookstore were all reopened for specific hours. The final Hurricane Update was sent out at 4:03 p.m. on Saturday, Sep. 15 announcing that the campus had returned to routine weekend status, with normal weekend building and dining hours. Classes were resumed Monday, Sep. 17.