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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Students, residents prepare for hurricane season

Alachua County and UF offer several resources to combat the season

Gianni Pena kayaked up the street with his belongings in rain-proof bags after Hurricane Irma swept north central Florida in September 2017. The 23-year-old Gainesville resident still feels nervous every June. If his house floods again, he’ll have to move.

His bedroom was six feet underwater, and his house had about a foot of water in it, he said. He remembered watermarks halfway up his garage and water in his driveway going above his Jeep’s tires. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast about 14 to 21 named storms this season — which lasts well beyond summer months, extending all the way until Nov. 30 — with the possibility of six to 10 becoming hurricanes. 

The city installed control pumps in Pena’s neighborhood — Hills of Santa Fe, two miles southwest of Santa Fe College — to help prevent flooding this year. The pumps will be used to drain large amounts of rainwater. 

Kenneth Allen, UF’s emergency management director, said the university provides shelters when needed, but most on-campus students will stay in their facility in the event of a hurricane. Hurricane survival kits with at least three days' worth of food, water and other essential supplies are vital, he said.

“We all live in Florida, which means we all have a hurricane problem,” Allen said. 

Hannah Lofgren, a 21-year-old UF environmental engineering senior, remembered sitting in Mallory Hall’s study room preparing for an impending exam while Hurricane Dorian approached Gainesville in 2019. 

While UF announced students could stay in their dorms during the storm, most of her floormates left. 

“It was definitely scary in the moment,” Lofgren said. “It felt like the dorm was being abandoned.”

Although the storm turned away from Gainesville, she found comfort in relying on a local friend for shelter. She recommended incoming freshmen reach out to floormates to understand their hurricane season gameplans. 

“Have no shame in asking if you can just go with them,” she said. “It’s just a scary time for everyone.”

UF Alert and UF Public Safety send and post hurricane season updates to students and faculty through text, email or social media. People should also own a battery-powered radio to stay updated in case a storm knocks out electricity and cellular service, Allen said.

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Jen Grice, Alachua County’s emergency management director, said the county offers several resources to help handle tropical storms and hurricanes. 

Alachua County has 21 identified shelters for residents, she said. 

Residents can call 3-1-1, a critical information line activated during emergencies, for updates about the storm and what the county is doing and text “ALACHUA” to 888777 for messages about new shelters, disaster recovery centers and sandbag locations.

Although the NOAA can predict how many storms will hit Florida, Grice said it is hard to anticipate how many will hit Alachua County. Residents should plan for at least one storm as a precaution, she said. 

“It only takes one bad storm to truly impact our community in a significant way,” Grice said. A common-sense approach is the best way to prepare for a storm; people should get empty jugs or containers and fill them up with tap water before the storm hits, she said. Water could be sold out at grocery stores as hurricanes near the area.

Connor Haley, a 20-year-old UF computer engineering junior, said he is not concerned about the season and what it brings. 

“I’ve lived in north Florida all my life,” Haley said. “We’ve always survived it.” 

Haley, who lives in Infinity Hall, said he feels comfortable living on and around campus and has not seen any real effects from tropical storms during the two years he’s lived in Gainesville. 

More information on how to be ready for hurricane season can be found at UF’s emergency page and Alachua County Ready

Contact Jackson Reyes at Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.

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