Damage from Frances is Minor

Published: Sep 8, 2004
Hurricane preparation pays, especially when it comes with a healthy helping of good fortune.

The University of Tampa escaped the ravages of Hurricane Frances with minimum damage to the campus and little more than a dose of boredom for the estimated 2,500 students who stayed on campus and hunkered down for the duration of the storm.

The most fortunate bit of luck was that most of the campus never lost power through the four days of rain and winds that Tampa experienced; so water pressure, electrical power, phone service, cell phones, Internet and Web site all operated throughout the storm. Much of the rest of Tampa was not that fortunate, as spotty power outages occurred throughout the Bay area.

UT experienced partial loss of power in the library, McKay residence hall and Res-com housing complex, resulting in the loss of air conditioning for a brief period.

There were a high number of inquiries on the UT Web, presumably from parents and relatives who wanted to stay informed on the status of the campus. Most of the students said that as long as their parents could reach them via cell phone or e-mail, they were not "too concerned."

 

Staff was brought in to provide round-the-clock service so that callers would have someone to answer their questions.

Students were rather resourceful about entertaining themselves. There were impromptu slip-and-slide sessions on the lawn and beach volleyball contests between the rain showers.

"I thought it was going to be a lot worse than it was," said Rebecca Calix, a second-semester freshman from Long Island, NY. "It was kind of fun. We ran around in the rain and played soccer and football."

For those who wanted to stay dry, the University provided first-run movies in each residence hall, and in the Vaughn Center's Reeves Theatre. The McNiff Fitness Center was staffed by students, and the Martinez gym and weight room were open. The Spartan club also was opened to provide some diversion with electronic games, Foosball and pool.

"We were determined to stay one step ahead of this storm as best we could," said President Ron Vaughn, who serves as head of the core Emergency Operations Team, which began regular meetings on Wednesday when Hurricane Frances was still located in the Bahamas.

The team met each day during the weekend, refining its responses, changing messages on the Web site, issuing global e-mails and voice-mail messages, and updating the media on emergency planning.

In order to provide uninterrupted services, the core team brought in a number of staff and their families to stay in University quarters for the duration of the emergency. President Vaughn and other key Emergency Operations Team members also slept on campus so that they could continuously check on students and respond to any emergencies that might arise.

Weather

While the wind and rain were bad, they were nothing compared to what residents experienced on the East Coast. By the time Frances got to Tampa on Sunday afternoon, she had been downgraded to Tropical Storm status with steady winds of about 40 miles per hour and gusts a bit higher.

Rain and possible coastal flooding were the big concerns as the backside of Frances moved through Tampa early Monday morning. A tidal surge of several feet came up the Hillsborough River, and water lapped into Plant Park and within 10 feet of McKay Hall.

Although no evacuations were ordered, the Emergency Team moved resident students on the first floor of McKay hall to another residence hall as a precaution. They were allowed to return to their rooms later that day.

Minimal Damage

 

There was a long list of minor damage such as broken windows, leaky window sills, soaked carpets, broken limbs and five downed trees. Of course, the campus was littered with leaves and other wind-blown debris.

Work crews were out early Tuesday morning after the winds began to subside.

Unexpectedly, a few individual students, and members of Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta, were out with rakes, brooms and gloves.

"We took a day off from classes, but that doesn't mean you take a day off from life," said Jamal Wilburg, chapter president of Phi Beta Sigma. "We wanted to help out. It's our campus, and we want people to see a beautiful place." Members of the UT women's soccer team practiced on Tuesday, and a number of other teams were gearing up to resume practices.

"I'm very pleased with the way the campus community, and the students especially, conducted themselves, throughout this emergency. It could have been much worse, and I think our community pulled together in a very positive way," said President Vaughn.