With the arrival of Hurricane Florence, CCU’s class of 2022 endured the most unpredictable first semester in the history of the University. Newly arrived freshmen held a unique perspective on the experience.
On Aug. 18, 2018, 2,329 new freshmen arrived on campus to start their academic careers at Coastal Carolina University.
On Sept. 9, 2018, 2,329 new freshmen were told to leave.
Three weeks into the semester and, for most of them, their first time away from home, these thousands of students were given instructions via official CCU email to stack their dorm furniture on their beds, pack a bag with three days’ worth of clothing and vacate the premises because a category four hurricane, accompanied by potentially deadly wind, rain and flooding, was headed their way.
With cellphones buzzing and dorm hallways crowded with activity, these students had 48 hours to make and implement a plan for evacuation. They held conversations with terrified parents, debated the merits of riding out the storm locally, negotiated a ride or a stay with roommates, plotted charts and predictions on the Weather Channel, and loaded up on gas and snacks. On busses, planes, trains and automobiles, they departed as instructed, with no idea when, how or in what condition they would return.
Hurricane Florence barreled into the Carolinas Sept. 13, 2018, bringing wind, record amounts of rain and historic flooding to Conway and surrounding areas. The effects of the storm — including the before, during and after stages — made for sensational news headlines and dramatic video footage broadcast around the country. However, for those CCU students inside the narrative, those three stages of preparation, endurance and recovery extended beyond weather conditions to have a critical impact on the emotional, social and academic dimensions of their lives.
We asked freshmen students in Colin Burch’s English 101 course to write a memoir on their experiences during the nearly three-week evacuation surrounding Hurricane Florence. Their stories of drama, confusion, pain and boredom, with interjections of kindness, benevolence and humor, offer a glimpse of the atmosphere that embraced the campus and lingered throughout the academic year.
“Nothing is more frustrating than being told you have to evacuate your own home weeks after moving in. The feeling of being unprepared overwhelms you. You try to be optimistic, telling yourself a mini vacation is what you needed this whole time, but one look at your finances and that mini-vacation turns into your worst nightmare.”
– Kevin Cordero
“When they gave us the order, we all jumped as notified — it was time to get out, however and as fast as you could. The next few hours ensued with stuffing every bag I had with what I held precious. When I found a moment to catch my breath, I joyously called all my friends back home, and told them we would be seeing each other in a matter of hours. Screams of delight on the other side of the line caused me to numb my previous worries about Coastal’s destruction and craziness that could ensue.”
– Mimi Oliver
“The tension in the bus is palpable because the Palmetto 89 train would be the last train out of the station due to the impending hurricane. The traffic going west was significantly worse than usual because of the evacuation along the East Coast. Around me, I see everyone checking their phone every few minutes and eagerly shuffling in their seats. As the time for departure is approaching, I see individuals growing increasingly worried. As I check the iPhone maps again, the expected time of arrival has us missing the train by three minutes. I update my dad that we are most likely not going to make it.
“A girl in the front of the bus says Palmetto 89 has been delayed five minutes, and the whole bus sighs because that is five minutes we desperately need.
“As we pull up to the road that would lead us to the station with 10 minutes to spare, there is a sign blocking the way: ROAD CLOSED. A boy in the front of the bus directs the driver to the station through backroads and behind random buildings. We pull up a street over from the station as we can see the train pulling in. The driver says, ‘Would you like me to try to pull around?’ Almost completely in unison, we respond ‘No, thanks!’
“As a group of united, stressed Coastal kids, with sprinkles of teal in the crowd, we run across the street into the station, and we go right through the station out to the train. One of the workers says, ‘Wow! You all just barely made it.’ I text my dad as I finally get to sit on the train: ‘Hey, finally on the train just made it.’
“He sends me a video of his whole office cheering my transportation victory.”
– Allison Clark
“Running around the house like a chicken with my head chopped off trying to get everything put up before Florence swept it away, I get a phone call from a close friend…she needs my help to move her family’s belongings out of their home, which is on the river. Growing up living right next to the Waccamaw River, I know what kind of damage we were going to have and how tremendous the flooding was going to be, so I stopped what I was doing, went over and helped move everything out. It wasn’t a one-day process; it took about three days — trips after trips, loads after loads, and days after days.”
– Hannah Brachter
Once these thousands of CCU freshmen arrived at their destinations, whether it was their own home, a roommate’s home, or some other landing place on their “hurrication,” most of them settled in comfortably — for the period of a few days that they were expecting to be evacuated. After the first few email updates and the announcement that campus would be closed another week, and then another week, emotional states shifted from tolerant, to frustrated, to desperate.
“By the end of the first week I was so prepared to return to school that I had my bag packed before I had it unpacked.”
– Daniel Holland
“Day 13 of the evacuation: Still no sign of when we will be able to return. Sitting in my room with four other guys, I wondered how I got myself into this situation. Why me? Why now? Things were going so good at school: I was making new friends, I was finally getting comfortable in my schedule, fraternity rush was starting. But just like the school, the Weather Channel can’t make up their minds on when this will be over. I laid in my bed just wishing that this was all over. Assignments were piling up on me, and five restless Northerners were becoming unsatisfied with their Southern escape.”
– Daniel O’Hara
“Now that the storm was over, we all had to worry about our houses flooding. The forecast said it would take just a couple of days for the rivers to reach major flood stage, so thousands of residents had only a couple days to move
everything they had … I passed most of my day helping friends empty their whole house. Once we moved everything, that’s when the waiting game began. The rivers filled up quickly, and for my friend to get to her house, I had to take her by boat every time.”
– Jarrett Mishoe
And then they returned to campus. From the wildly disparate experiences they had endured over a period of 20 days, the freshmen returned to CCU disoriented and unsure of the strength of their recently planted social and academic roots. As they slowly returned to their daily routines, they realized the entire CCU environment — professors, roommates, classes — had profoundly changed.
“The drive from that airport felt like the longest drive of my life. I was left alone to think about the struggles that were to come. At this point, I finally began to get the emails from my professors, who honestly weren’t even sure how to make up the missed time. It would be a struggle for all of us.”
– Tanner Hebeisan
“The energy throughout the campus had changed. It was like no one knew what to do with themselves or how to act. The frustration, stress and worry was shown across almost every faculty member and student, including myself. That first week back, I was handed a new syllabus for all of my classes. Deadlines were pushed up and back, lessons consolidated, adding additional days to the schedule to fit all the material in. I had the feeling that no matter how much effort I put in, I would have dropped the ball in one class or another.”
– Alyssa Rizzo
Without exception, CCU students wished they had been granted a typical first-semester experience rather than the chaos that was Hurricane Florence. However, many expressed value in lessons learned through the ordeal, ranging from gratitude to empathy to a new worldview.
“I have never been happier to see a cotton field than I was on my ride back to school. The hurricane was altogether an unpleasant experience, but it helped me to build a bond with my roommates that I never thought I would. Better yet, it made me more excited to call Coastal home, as I missed being away for so long. I would never trade this experience for anything else.”
“This hurricane did not affect me to the degree that it affected other students, faculty and staff. I did not have a lot of responsibilities or feelings during the storm, but I learned a lot through this evacuation. While all was going well back home, Hurricane Florence was ruining lives in the Carolinas. I know going forward that I will be much more aware of the events and problems happening around the country instead of only being aware of what is going on around me.”
– Isabella Kitzberger
“It was rough, but we endured. For those of us students who weren’t scared off and put in the work, we are still here. We faced the storm, we pulled together, we pushed with everything we had, and we made it through.”