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USF community impacted by Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael ravaged Florida’s panhandle Wednesday afternoon, making landfall after intensifying into a powerful Category 4 storm that then battered the region for hours.

Michael and its 155 mph winds is the strongest hurricane on record to strike the area and has killed at least one man after a tree crashed into his home, police said.

The Tampa Bay area was mostly spared by the storm, though winds picked up to over 45 mph in some places, such as at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, according to the National Weather Service.

Though minor damage could be seen around campus — including downed trees at The Claw, USF’s golf course — the storm potentially left its biggest impact on the university through its students and alumni whose homes were in its path.

Of those effected was 21-year-old alumnus Brad Mostowski, who graduated from USF last semester. He now studies at FSU as a graduate student, where he and his apartment were partially in the path of Michael.

“I got out of there as soon as I saw it was going to be greater than a Category 2,” he said. “I took the most expensive stuff in my apartment and shoved it in my car and started driving.”

Mostowski says his apartment survived the storm just fine.

Sydney Hopp, a USF student, wasn’t as fortunate.

Her dad and sister live in Panama City Beach, which took a direct hit from Michael. She says a friend told her the storm destroyed her entire roof, effectively ruining almost everything in her family’s one-story home.

“Our house is still standing at least,” Hopp said. “It’s terrible. So many buildings are gone. I saw so many videos of buildings I knew just being ripped away.”

Hopp said her dad and 14-year-old sister evacuated to Sarasota on Tuesday, where she then met them. Her mom, however, elected to weather the storm in her separate apartment.

Left powerless and with little cell signal, Hopp says contact with her mother has been few and far between.

So much so, she says her mother, at one point, turned her phone off during the storm to conserve her phone battery.

Without telling Hopp.

“I kept calling and calling her, but she wouldn’t answer,” Hopp said. “I was afraid of what could’ve happened. You see all these videos and I knew she lived on the top floor of her apartment complex.”

In the end, Hopp said her mother survived the storm unscathed, her apartment still in tact.

While her home isn’t what it used to be, Hopp said she’s thankful her dad made the decision to evacuate it. She said it was a last-minute decision he made after he saw the storm beginning to become more powerful.

Unlike Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida last September and closed USF for six days, Michael intensified in its final hours before making landfall, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 4 in less than a day.

Though Irma left a larger impact than Michael did on the Tampa Bay area and USF’s campus, it ultimately weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 1 storm as it made landfall in South Florida.

Mostowski said fellow students of his at FSU did the same as Hopp’s family. One student, he said, booked a flight home to North Carolina just minutes after FSU announced Monday it would cancel class for the rest of the week.

“We were all looking to scram out of there,” he said.

In all, the full extent of the damage and other casualties from Michael still remain uncertain. What is certain, though, is that Hopp’s hometown will not be the same for some time, she says.

“I can only imagine how long it’ll be until my sister can go back to school,” Hopp said. “My parents don’t want me to go home so soon and see the damage. They know it’ll make me upset.

“But I need to go home.”