Hurricane Irma, the most intense hurricane in the Atlantic since Hurricane Dean in 2007, crossed Florida this past week, causing massive power outages and damages.
The hurricane blew across Florida with winds at 130 mph, causing at least 16 U.S. mainland deaths and leaving almost 5 million homes without power. The hurricane impacted nine states, including Florida, according to CNN.
Graduate student Matt Hazelton, a Florida resident, was in Hillsdale at the time of the hurricane, but said his family felt the hurricane’s effects.
“The eyewall actually went right through my family’s hometown,” Hazelton said. “By the time it reached them, it was a Category 2, so about 100 mph winds. It wasn’t as bad as some we’ve seen.”
Senior David Stone, also from Florida, shared a similar story.
“I’m here in Michigan, and my family’s in Florida,” Stone said. “I’d like to be there to help them out, but I can’t.”
Both Stone and Hazelton found that the churches and individuals in their communities back home were helping people get back on their feet. At Stone’s church, the college-aged members took charge of serving the older members of the church. Those in Hazelton’s church group who had power offered hot meals and laundry services.
“It’s more of a neighborhood coming together, people saying ‘hey, I got my yard cleaned up, but the old lady next door, she’s never going to be able to clean that up, so I’ll clean it up for her,” Hazelton said.
According to Hazelton, the residents of Florida seem to be taking the damage in stride, despite the damages and loss of power.
“It’s the kind of thing that happens every couple of years, so people know the drill,” Hazelton said.
Others’ experiences with the hurricane were not as uplifting. Nickolas Swander, who worked at Hillsdale College from 2005 to 2006 and briefly enrolled in 2006, currently lives in Florida with his wife. He and his family experienced the storm firsthand when they were forced to search for shelter.
“We got to a condo community, and everybody pushed us out,” Swander said. “People pulled out guns and were saying they’d kill us if we came near them. I’ve got a pregnant wife, we’ve got animals, we just needed shelter for an hour until this thing goes by.”
The family was forced to backtrack until they could find shelter, getting injured by flying shrapnel in the process. The family survived, as did their rabbits and their dog, but they lost everything else. The family has a GoFundMe account to help make up for their losses, which can be found through Swander’s Facebook page.
Hazelton advises that the best way to help out with people in the area is to get in contact with people you know or give locally to churches in the area.
“If you want to help specific people, reach out to local church groups,” Hazelton said. “Churches are really good at funneling the funds where they need to go. They know the little old lady who can’t get out of her house really needs help.”