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Hurricane Florence Hits Close to Home for Harvard Students

By Ruth A. Hailu, Crimson Staff Writer

On Friday Sept. 14 as the Category 1 Hurricane Florence was making landfall, all Carolina natives at Harvard could do was watch as they waited to hear back from family members and see if their homes sustained any damage.

Since Florence arrived on the east coast, there have been at least 43 confirmed deaths, flooding estimated as high as 30 inches — which would be a state record for North Carolina if confirmed — and possible contamination of rivers due to flood damage to a dam in North Carolina.

Caroline Tew ’20, whose mother was able to evacuate to Boston, said they frantically watched the news hoping to see how her hometown, Myrtle Beach, was doing after the storm.

“They were forecasting that for North Carolina, and maybe even for my hometown of Myrtle Beach, it would be as bad as Katrina was, and so I was really panicked,” Tew, a Crimson arts editor, said.

Tew said in the days leading up to the storm’s landfall, she was preoccupied with tracking the storm and contacting people she knew still in the area.

“It was kind of hard to focus on the smaller assignments just because I spent several hours of my day on and off checking weather reports and texting people that I didn't normally text to be like, ‘Are you safe?’” she said. “So I had like a lot more on my mind than usual.”

North Carolina native Mari Jones ’21 said contacting her family the weekend after the storm was not possible due to power outages.

Now that the storm has passed, however, the majority of problems result from flooding. Issues include cars fully submerged in roads that now resemble rivers, lack of access to basic facilities due to road obstruction, and fallen trees, which have caused a number of deaths.

“When you are closer inland, you don't have the drainage set up to handle that much water, so it's not really the winds and stuff, the infrastructure is fine for that, but it's the amount of water damage that can happen to a lot of buildings that’ll actually make them collapse,” Jones said.

In a move that sparked controversy, South Carolina announced that it wouldn’t be evacuating its prisons, even though many are along its coast. Salma Abdelrahman ’20, advocacy chair for the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Reform, expressed frustration at this decision, pointing towards Hurricane Katrina as an example of what can happen when prisoners are not evacuated.

“At the time, they had been staying in cells with water up to their chests and the prison guards were told to evacuate the building, and prisoners were really just sitting in their cells, swimming in water, with no support or relief,” Abdelrahman said.

Abdelrahman said that, at an upcoming HOPE event, the group would urge people to call the governor’s office and the department of corrections in South Carolina.

“It's just despicable, quite honestly, to dehumanize people to an extent where we allow them to stay in cages at risk of losing their lives,” she said.

A number of major roads, including Interstate 40 and Interstate 95, are still closed, and South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster estimated that Florence cost the state a total of 1.2 billion dollars.

Hurricane Florence arrived near the anniversary of Category 4 storm Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, leaving many residents still trying to recover nearly a year later. Jones said storms like Florence and Maria, while highlighting insufficient infrastructure, also exacerbate economic and social problems since those with the most resources can more often afford to leave or rebuild.

“I feel like natural disasters, I don't want to say are handled poorly, but there's just not enough infrastructure because South Carolina isn't used to hurricanes, neither is North Carolina,” she said. “But I think when they do happen, those who are more financially well off tend to come out a little more blessed than other people and then other people are kind of neglected in it, which I think we also saw with Puerto Rico.”

—Staff writer Ruth A. Hailu can be reached at Follow her on twitter @ruth_hailu_

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