Hurricane Florence makes landfall, campus responds

Image courtesy of Flickr   Florence could be seen from the NOAA satellite.

Image courtesy of Flickr

Florence could be seen from the NOAA satellite.


Hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina in the early morning of Friday, Sept. 14, according to the National Weather Service. North and South Carolina suffered the most damage, but Virginia, Georgia and Maryland were also affected. These states all declared states of emergency as monumental levels of rain were expected. 100,000 people lost power the night before the storm began, according to the Weather Channel. The storm has caused at least 34 deaths since Sept. 14.

Sarah Chait ’21 is from Tybee Island, Georgia, which is right off the coast of Savannah. She said that her parents did not have to evacuate because the hurricane was north of their home.

“It was raining and [there were] really strong winds, but there wasn’t a need to evacuate because the hurricane [was] much [farther] north,” she said.

She did, however, need to evacuate due to weather emergencies during Hurricane Matthew.

“When the storm was coming, it was very, very stressful, some reports say some rain, others say that the Island will be destroyed. It was very confusing. We weren’t sure what we were expecting [...] my really deep fear was that our house was going to be destroyed,” she said.

Now, in the aftermath of the storm, Hurricane Florence has left behind substantial flooding, necessitating the deployment of 6,000 National Guard soldiers and thousands of federal disaster response workers across the Carolinas, according to the New York Times. NOAA projects that rivers will rise even more in the Carolinas and officials in South Carolina said that up to 21,000 people could be displaced by the flooding, according to ABC News.

On top of additional flooding, more storms may be heading towards the area: the Washington Post reported that three cyclones have been forming in the tropical Atlantic since Sept. 21 and a part of what was once Hurricane Florence is now between the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Kevin Surprise, visiting lecturer in Environmental Studies, explained why such large amounts of rain and flooding came with Hurricane Florence.

“In the case of hurricanes, anthropogenic climate change is increasing frequency and intensity,” said Surprise. “Hurricanes draw energy from the ocean and atmosphere — a warmer atmosphere, and particularly warmer sea-surface temperatures — allow hurricanes to generate greater amounts of energy. In recent storms like Florence and Harvey (Houston, 2017), this means, paradoxically, that storms move slowly, drastically increasing rates of rainfall and magnitudes of flooding.”

Surprise continued, “Climate change is also, of course, causing sea level rise (due to melting ice caps), creating considerably higher risks of deadly storm surges in coastal areas.”

Chait said that her hometown of Tybee Island has also felt the effects of climate change: “For the last three years now [...] the hurricanes have gotten much more aggressive and their paths have gotten more aggressive,” she said.

Surprise also emphasized that the handling of the hurricane by the current administration will be vital.

“In all of this, it is crucial to remember that ‘natural’ disasters disproportionately affect some populations more than others — historically, low-income communities of color. Consider the difference between the Trump Administration’s response to Hurricane Harvey (Houston, TX), and Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico),” he said.

“Most victims of Harvey received federal aid in a timely manner, while vast swathes of Puerto Rico went without electricity or running water for months on end, and we are now reduced to crass haggling over the death toll. We can only hope that lessons have been learned,” said Surprise.

In an email to the Mount Holyoke community on Sept. 17, Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall emphasized that the College was monitoring the situation with the storm and provided a list of resources for those impacted.

Some groups at Mount Holyoke have begun to plan charity drives to help those affected by Florence. One such group is Mount Holyoke’s student-led community outreach organization, the CAUSE Board. Katerina Alvarez ’20, the chair of CAUSE, said that the group is planning to team up with the Second Harvest Food Bank, located in southeast North Carolina, to host a school-wide initiative called “Small Bucks Fill Big Trucks.”

“Our goal as a school would be to raise $600,” said Alvarez. “With local farmers and retail distributors in the Carolinas, $600 is the same as 33,000 pounds of food per load and 27,000 meals for the food insecure affected by Hurricane Florence.”

CAUSE will be raising money between Oct. 1 and 19 and according to Alvarez, will likely be tabling during lunch and dinner in the Dining Commons. More information about the project can be found at give-food/small-bucks-fill-big-trucks/.