With Hurricane Irma moving up the Florida peninsula, UF students evacuated to on-campus shelters at Steinbrenner Band Hall and Southwest Recreation Center.
Classes have been canceled through Wednesday.
At about 10 a.m. this morning, students received a UF Alert urging those seeking shelter to head to Southwest Recreation Center after the Steinbrenner Band Hall filled up. UF spokesperson Janine Sikes said the capacity of the band hall was 200. Southwest Rec has a capacity of 2,000.
In a rush to find a safe place to hunker down, freshmen roommates Victoria Lehoczky and Stamatina Copulos decided to make the two-and-a-half mile walk from their dorm on the third floor in Thomas Hall to the shelter at Southwest Recreation Center.
“We didn’t know if our dorm room was safe enough, being the windows weren’t impact glass,” Lehoczky, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, said. “So we packed a couple things in a small suitcase and started walking to Southwest Rec.”
Lehoczky and Copulos packed a suitcase with clothing, sheets, toiletries, a duffle bag of nonperishable foods, water and their backpacks packed with homework.
There were no buses running, so the girls had planned to walk for more than an hour to get to the shelter.
As the two were by Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at 11:45 a.m., UF President Kent Fuchs drove up next to them and offered to drive them to the shelter.
“I wasn’t looking for people to pick up,” Fuchs said. “There were two first-year students that were near the football stadium, and they were walking all the way toward the Southwest Rec Center and you could tell, because they had suitcases and pillows, what they were doing, so I stopped and asked them if they needed a ride.”
Copulos said she was surprised to run into the president during her walk.
“It was kind of unreal running into him,” Copulos, an 18-year-old UF political science freshman, said. “It was so surprising and it was nice to know that the president of the university was spending his time helping the students get to safety.”
Phil Yang, a 22-year-old Gainesville resident, headed to the Steinbrenner Band Hall shelter at about 9 a.m. Sunday. Yang, who just moved into his apartment by Butler Plaza, said he was worried about trees breaking the windows. Despite the shelter being at capacity, Yang said the area is comfortable.
“There’s a lot of space, and people are really friendly,” he said.
For Angelia Bulatao, an 18-year-old UF journalism freshman, the shelter was worth waiting in the rain. Bulatao and her roommate headed to the Steinbrenner Band Hall at 8:15 a.m. Sunday to ensure they got a space.
“I’m pretty nervous about it,” she said. “I don’t really know how extensive the damage will be.”
Bulatao, who lives at Campus Lodge Apartments, was worried trees would fall into her third-story apartment. She brought her comforter, pillow, clothes and snacks. Bulatao’s keepsakes, like photos and cards, are in a plastic bag in her bathroom to keep them safe, she said.
Sunchips and kettle cooked potato chips were given out, Bulatao said. Someone also brought loaves of bread to share.
“It’s kind of like camping, but next to a lot of people,” she said. “I’m pretty calm, everyone is. They’re just snacking.”
Alexis Manley, a 20-year-old UF anthropology junior, got to the Steinbrenner Band Hall at around 8:30 a.m. She brought a large quilt to put on the floor, a blanket, pillow, snacks, electronics, personal items and some school work.
“I decided to go to the shelter mostly to appease my parents, but also for my own safety,” she said. “It was really a ‘better to be safe than sorry’ kind of decision.”
Manley says that by about 9:30 a.m. the band hall shelter was already full. She said her experience has been good so far, and that the shelter is providing lunch, snacks, juice and places to refill water.
“Everyone is being nice and considerate to others,” she said. “It’s a bit crowded, but it could be a whole lot worse.”