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An eye on the storm

With the second hurricane in less than three weeks threatening Central Florida shores, USF students once again find themselves bearing down for another potential disaster.

Hurricane Frances, projected to hit near Melbourne on Florida’s East Coast, is expected to make landfall early this weekend.

The storm, with its 140 mph gusts and width greater than that of Florida, has Melbourne resident and USF sophomore Matt Burgess worried. Burgess, who moved to Tampa from Melbourne to attend USF, said his family recently moved into a new house, one that has not been tested in battle with Mother Nature.

“I’m a little worried because our new house really hasn’t been through anything at all, not anything like this,” Burgess said. “I’m also worried about my family, my parents and my grandparents.”

Justin Lawandales, also a sophomore, said he has friends coming to Tampa to avoid Frances, with his mother perhaps joining him to avoid the possible wreckage. Melbourne is a beachside city, neighboring several smaller cities on the nearby barrier island; a fact that he said has a lot of people worried.

“People are evacuating because they’re closing down the bridges,” Lawandales said.

Lawandales added, however, that he had seen plenty of similar threats in the past, and Frances doesn’t have him too scared.

“We have these threats at least once a year, and they usually miss or leave just a little bit of damage,” he said of Melbourne. “But you still have to make plans in case you do get hit.”

Experts are saying Frances could be even worse than Charley, however, and that residents are advised to take it as a serious threat. Wednesday evening, Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency, which orders the activation of the Florida National Guard and other preparations. He also warned more evacuations might be ordered.

Siva Prakash, emergency preparedness coordinator at USF, said the university will decide tomorrow what actions need to be taken in preparation for any changes that turn the storm toward Tampa.

“Usually within 48 hours of the strike is when we go into the final steps, whatever they may be,” Prakash said. “We have plans, written documents, that outline our plans in the event of a hurricane. Usually in June is when we go into step one.

“But closing the university, should it be necessary, is something that is up to (USF) President Judy Genshaft. Tomorrow we will have a meeting to discuss what needs to be done,” Prakash said.

Prakash also said that the university is taking actions right now to ensure the safety of its students and faculty and preserve the campus.

“We make preparations for the sandbags, we make sure we have flashlights and batteries, things like that,” he said. “Also, right now we are in constant communication with the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center.”

Hillsborough’s EOC updates USF on the storm’s movement every four hours, Prakash said. At about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Prakash said the latest information he had “indicated that the storm was heading for Florida, entering around Melbourne, and exiting Florida near Brooksville,” about 35 miles north of Tampa.

Prakash said he will be in meetings with other emergency planning officials several times per day until the storm has passed. One of the issues to be discussed, he said, is the evacuation of students living in residence halls on campus.

“(The need for an evacuation) will be discussed tomorrow. For Charley, what happened was, the number of residents was very few (because fewer students were on campus during the summer),” he said.

USF spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon said that the university is not liable for any damage done to personal belongings should the storm hit the residence halls. She also said that the university would make every effort to notify its students should the storm require the campus be closed or an evacuation be ordered.