Hurricane Matthew


The wind sped up and the rain intensified as Matthew closed in.

Formed in late September as the result of a tropical wave that originated along the African coast, Hurricane Matthew surged into the Atlantic Ocean after gathering speed and strength in the Eastern Caribbean.

Labeled as a Category 3 hurricane and characterized by its sustained winds of 111 to 129 mph, Matthew ripped through Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, where it claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Before Matthew ground its way up to the East coast of Florida and into North and South Carolina, JU officials prepared for the worst.

Matthew Approaches

Preparation was key to dealing with the hurricane. According to the Director of Campus Security Kevin Bennett, when the threat approached, JU’s Emergency Preparedness Team swung into action.

Campus Security assessed and removed all potential hazards around campus, such as outdoor furniture and unstable trees, said Bennett.

After securing hazards, Campus Security prepared buildings for the storm’s potential effects.

“We made sure that every building was up to specifications as far as where sandbags needed to be put out, especially in areas where flooding could occur,” said Bennett. “For example, the Kinne Center and the Swisher Library.”

On Wednesday Oct. 5, JU cancelled all school and homecoming activities for the remainder of week. The goal behind this decision was to ensure the safety of the campus community, said Dean of Students Kristie Gover.

“The decision was made to give people proper planning and evacuation time before the storm’s arrival on Friday and to ensure the relocation of our students and of dinning services,” said Gover.

That same day, Residential Life officials requested that students evacuate the Village Apartments and North Hall and relocate to Oak and Botts halls. Student relocation served a specific aim.

“One of the reasons why Oak Hall is one of our hurricane facilities is because of Waves. Dinning services has the ability to store food and cook,” said Gover.
“If needed, Oak Hall also has a backup generator for Waves.”

Oak Hall is a Category 4 hurricane wind resistant building, meaning it can withstand winds from 130 to 156 mph. Also, the building’s 500 occupant capacity allowed it to shelter a significant number of students.

Moving students into Oak Hall went smoothly due to the small number of people that remained on campus.

“We had about 400 students stay during the storm and about 650 students voluntarily evacuated,” said Gover.

After relocating students into Botts and Oak halls, several administration executives, including Margaret Dees, senior vice president of enrollment management and communications, and Gover stayed on campus to help ensure student safety and keep the JU community updated.

The precautionary measures taken by university executives helped prepare JU for what was to come.

During The Storm

Hurricane Matthew’s effects were mostly felt during Friday afternoon. Luckily, students and staff were ready to face this force of nature.

Even though student tension increased as the storm approached, Residential Life staff tried to make the stay in Oak and Botts halls enjoyable, said Director of Residential Life Lucas Mullin.

“I think people were getting a little restless, but we had the RA’s doing activities to try and keep them entertained so they wouldn’t have the need to leave the facility,” said Mullin. “We weren’t holding them hostage, people could come and go, but we wanted to make sure they were safe; that was the no. 1 priority.”

Although the residential advisors tried to make the situation more bearable to students, Oak endured technical difficulties during the hurricane.

“There were very few situations where the lights were flickering,” said Mullin. “Also in Oak Hall the water was out particularly overnight, and also during the morning after the hurricane.”

Residential Life tried to provide comfort during overall situation, but some students found Oak Hall crowded.

“Oak had two times as many people it was designed to hold, but other than that it was no big deal,” said Freddy Washburn, a junior student of electrical engineering.

Despite the relocation causing some students’ discomfort, Aramark did an excellent job in providing warm meals, said Washburn.

Also, students say they appreciated the efforts made by the Residential Life staff to try and make the situation more enjoyable.

“Residential Life was really great,” said Natasha Ubani, an international business freshman. “They had a bunch of activities over the whole hurricane to keep us occupied.”

The activities held went from playing games to watching movies.

Throughout the development of the storm, Residential Life also kept students informed about any news of the Hurricane.

“We were always told right away, none of us were left out of the loop,” said Ubani. “They really guided us along and made sure everyone felt safe.”

The Aftermath

Hurricane Matthew left a path of devastation in several nations and states. Compared to those places, JU was lucky.

The cost the university sustained in damage was significantly lower than the losses North Florida experienced as a whole.

“One can assume tens of thousands of dollars of damage has been done, primarily to our extensive population of oak trees,” said JU President Tim Cost in an email interview.

But Cost seemed confident that JU would bounce back from these blows.

“Jacksonville University has been able to successfully handle the damage on our campus caused by Hurricane Matthew by utilizing a variety of professional resources: external partners, service providers, field experts, and our own team of residential staff, student affairs, and Aramark facilities,” said Cost.

JU’s insurance coverage over damaged buildings, equipment, and grounds, promises reconstruction and improvement of spaces damaged by Matthew.

While Oak Hall suffered no harm, central campus sustained the most damage after the storm, said Gover.

“The majority of the losses were related to trees falling, and limbs falling,” said Gover. “However, there was one building damaged from a tree falling.”

Reid Medical Science Center lost four windows after a tree fell next to it during the hurricane, said Gover.

Besides fallen trees, river debris, and a blown-away gate on the south side of campus, there were no injuries or significant destruction made to campus.

The damage caused to the university gave Katherine Harbaugh, a student at JU, the incentive to develop a community event to aid campus. The movement began after Harbaugh reached out to Gover asking permission to develop this initiative.

The JU Campus Clean Up involved members from the JU community working together to restore the campus grounds.

“We had lots of volunteers,” said Gover. “A mix of athletes, international students, fraternity and sorority members, and students in general who wanted to get back to campus and help it get back to normal.”

According to Gover, Hurricane Matthew served not only as a learning experience but as growing opportunity for the campus as a whole.

“Ultimately it ended up being a good bonding experience for the campus community and particularly for the students who stayed.”