Campus News

Bethel students speak about loved ones in path of Hurricanes Irma and Jose

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Irma Story No doubt you’ve heard the news of the devastating hurricanes that have hit the southern and southeastern United States and the surrounding areas, such as the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area, causing massive flooding. Then, Hurricane Irma, which holds the record for longest sustained hit the Virgin Islands, knocking out power and causing heavy damage on the island of Saint Thomas. Irma then moved on to Florida on Saturday, prompting an evacuation order in Miami. Situated snugly here in northern Indiana, Bethel is safely out of the path of these storms, but that doesn’t mean that they have no impact whatsoever. A few students currently on campus have connections with people right in the path of these storms, and amid the damage, they’re working to stay connected and updated with those they love. Molly Claeys, sophomore psychology major, has immediate family on the island of Saint Croix of the Virgin Islands. “My family lives there, like my immediate family, my parents and my three younger siblings live on the island of Saint Croix,” she said. Claeys’ family has lived on the island for 10 years and serve as youth pastors for a local church. She stayed in contact with her family in the days leading up to Irma hitting the island, and even stayed in contact a bit during the storm, until her family lost power. Unlike in Miami, there was no mandatory evacuation notice on the island. “I know on Saint Croix they had government agents, like emergency responders fly in in advance, but no evacuation or anything like that,” said Claeys. “If you wanted to get off, you had to pay for yourself. And the tickets had like doubled, because obviously, they could make money. So…my three younger siblings were going to leave, and the tickets were so expensive they couldn't afford it.” This phenomenon, known as price gouging, has been a concern in Florida, as people booking last-minute flights out of the path of Irma found ticket prices of over $3,000. It’s unclear if the airlines are intentionally raising prices or if it’s simply the last-minute nature of the bookings, but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi reached an agreement with various airlines to cap prices, according to First Coast News. American Airlines agreed to cap tickets at $99, while Delta Airlines pledged to charge no more than $399 for non-stop flights from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the Caribbean. Claeys’ home of Saint Croix was spared the brunt of Irma, only getting hit by the edge of the storm. The neighboring island of Saint Thomas was not so fortunate. “…Saint Thomas, which is another Virgin Island, and you can see it from Saint Croix, was almost completely destroyed,” said Clayes. “Their hospital's destroyed, they're flying patients into Saint Croix to use our hospital, like, homes are ruined…they're in really bad shape.” Claeys’ family is currently without direct power, but she’s able to keep in contact with them through a generator they have running to maintain Wi-Fi coverage. Clayes also spoke a bit about what the mood on the island is post-Irma. “I think on Saint Croix, it was anticipated to be a lot worse than it was, which is really great that it was better...it's really drawing (them) together as a community, to help the other islands,” she said. Of the three main Virgin Islands, Saint Thomas has the largest population. According to Claeys, the citizens of Saint Croix are gathering together all the supplies they had bought in advance of Irma and taking personal boats over to Saint Thomas to assist in reconstructing and providing for the devastated island. “…it's really brought this sense of community, which is something that we're kind of hoping for, because we've been so (ununified) as a community, and there's been huge outbreaks of crime this year, so this is, in a way, pulling everything together for the better,” said Claeys. After passing over the Virgin Islands, Irma made its way toward Florida. Alaina Williams, junior music education major, wrote in an email to “The Beacon” on Saturday about her connections in Florida and how they’re preparing for the storm. “I have cousins and an uncle that are in the path of the storm,” she wrote. “My cousins live in the Clearwater area and my uncle lives about 10 miles south of Clearwater.” “I have personally talked to my uncle and he kinda jokes about the hurricane because he’s been through so many,” she went on. “Like the last text I got from him jokes about how he is going to surf because it’s the only time that there are big enough waves on the gulf. My mom has talked to my cousins and they are also going to be staying in Florida during the hurricane. I know there are areas that are under mandatory evacuation, but that’s about all I know.” At the time of her writing, Williams said that contact was still good and that she was able to make sure her family was okay. As for her personal thoughts about the coming storm, she wrote, “I am really worried about this storm. People have been saying that it is going to be the most destructive/devastating storm in the Atlantic. I recently saw an article on the Weather Channel that talked about the most destructive hurricane that hit Florida, that was hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the size is just amazing. Hurricane Irma is about twice the size of Andrew, so I am just worried for my family and hope and pray that they make it out of this alive and okay.” Williams isn’t the only one with fears about a coming storm. Claeys spoke of her nervousness about the coming Hurricane Jose. “It's in the exact path that Irma was, so like, my heart is breaking for all the people that have no homes right now,” she said. “How are they going to protect themselves from this next hurricane? On Saint Croix, we're in a lot better shape than the other islands to be hit with another one, and...I know one island, I think it was Barbuda, was completely destroyed, like every single house. It's terrible, so I'm just not sure how other islands are going to do because it's following the exact same path that Irma did, so it's going to hit the exact same places.” I asked Claeys if she’s heard of any efforts to evacuate the islands in the face of the coming storm. “No,” she said. “I think they're all just kind of in shock, because it really only hit Wednesday…I have friends who live on Saint Thomas who no one's been able to get ahold of. They just don't have power resources to even contact other islands. I really think the contact being made is from the military bases, and...so I know my friend, he is in the Air National Guard, their hospital's closed down...it got destroyed, so he's going to clean out the whole cancer section, because it's leaking all this stuff everywhere. So, I don't think there's been a lot of contact being made from Saint Thomas and Saint John just because...there's nothing there to contact. Claeys and Williams spoke about how the news has affected life here on campus. “This is not really affecting my life at school because there is really nothing I can do,” wrote Williams. “I can only sit there and worry, so I try to keep myself busy.” “It's just been hard,” said Claeys. “My sister (Madeline) and I stayed up really late when it was supposed to hit, so we were exhausted. It's just been a challenge trying to just feel for my family (and) want to be with them but also need to carry on and go to all my classes and do all my homework on time when I just feel like I'm emotionally worn down. Williams and Claeys also shared their feelings about the season as a whole. “Well, it was really challenging to be so far away from home,” said Claeys. “Just...I wanted to be with my family as they were going through all of this. But I just believe that we serve a faithful God, and that He's good and...even seeing how Saint Croix was spared, He's so good and faithful. Even if Saint Croix would have been damaged and really destroyed, He's still so good and faithful. So, I don't really know other than that, that's really all I can hold on to.” “I just hope and pray that this hurricane (Irma) doesn’t do as much damage as is predicted, and I also pray that there are few to no casualties, but I have a feeling it is going to be another Katrina,” wrote Williams. Hurricane Irma was classified as a Category 3 hurricane as it made landfall in Marco Island, Fla. on September 10.
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