With a five-day Labor Day weekend behind it, USF reopens classes today relatively unscathed after Hurricane Frances ripped through Florida.
USF President Judy Genshaft said the university was lucky to escape with no loss of power and minimal damage to the campus. Aside from flooding and broken tree limbs in some areas, Genshaft said, Frances left little evidence of its rampage.
“We’re recovering, we’re doing quite well,” Genshaft said. “Actually, we were quite lucky that we had no damage.”
Genshaft said the flooding was increased in some areas by already-overfilled retention ponds on campus, but that the university’s physical plant was working to pump water out of the flooded areas. University spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon added that parking Wednesday should not be a problem, because the physical plant plans to have the water removed from the parking lots before classes begin.
“We have a staff here that has been phenomenal,” Genshaft said. “They have worked day and night throughout the weekend, leaving their families and homes, to make sure the university got through this. It is because of these people that we never lost power during the storm.”
Genshaft also said that, while classes are being reopened, she understands students may still be facing problems stemming from Frances and Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida last month.
Genshaft also said she was proud of the way the university worked with the community in providing shelter.
“The university is here for the community, and the community is here for the university. It really is a two-way street,” she said.
“I walked the campus with (student body president) Bijal Chhadva on Friday afternoon and we saw some parents who decided to stay in the residence halls with their children, parents who were coming from the East Coast,” Genshaft said.
“From what I understand, about 60 percent of the students stayed in the residence halls, and our staff was ready to make sure everything went OK … It was good to see so many people working together to make sure everyone was safe.”
Frances was Genshaft’s first hurricane experience. She said she never thought of leaving the city because she wanted to be near the university to be sure students and employees were doing well. She also said that time spent talking to students Friday and Saturday was very influential in her decision to cancel classes Tuesday.
Resident advisors in the residence halls told her that many students had evacuated and may have had a difficult time getting back to Tampa in time to attend, Genshaft said.
One such student was junior Annika Wright. Wright lives in Indialantic, a barrier island city near Melbourne on Florida’s east coast. The Melbourne area was one of the first to feel Frances’ effects, and Wright’s beachside home became, as she called it, “more of a floor mat than a house.”
“Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to make it to class all week,” said Wright, who commutes to USF on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday each week for class.
“I’ve got too many things to worry about, with my family trying to recover and my friends in similar situations. I guess it worked out well for me that the university was closed, but I wouldn’t have been able to make it even if it was open.
“Our roof is gone, and so are two of the walls. We obviously have no power. Our furniture was all ruined; most of what we own was damaged.”
Wright also said traffic was a major concern for her.
“I’m really not looking forward to trying to drive to class Thursday, if I decide to go,” she said.
“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I hate the drive when traffic is normal and I make it in like two hours. Three or four hours on the road, followed by eight hours of school, is not what I want to be doing right now with my home really in shambles.”