Braving the storm: Wildcats share experiences in Hurricane Sandy

(Source: Maria Villasenor)
A tractor clears debris from a road near the Hudson River and Riverside State Park in New York on Tuesday.

As the storm warnings about Hurricane Sandy increased in New York over the weekend, Weber State University freshman Tyler White’s parents and sister knew they had to get out.

They had already shortened their trip by one day, but on Sunday morning began to feel too uncomfortable to remain in Manhattan and went to the airport.

A Delta manager told them more than 1,000 flights had already been canceled, but after a few hours, a flight opened to Atlanta. After a two-hour delay to get off the runway, the pilots flew the 757 plane through rough turbulence. Once the wheels touched ground in Georgia, the 300 passengers cheered and clapped, relieved to be safely out of the storm.

“We were so lucky to get out and not be stranded there,” said White’s mother Natalie. “Right where we were staying is flooded and underwater now.”

Many current and former Wildcats live back East, were visiting the area this weekend, or have family and friends who could have been at risk. According to The New York Times, accidents relating to the hurricane have claimed more than 40 lives in the United States and Canada this week, and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey called the scope of the damage across a half-dozen states “incalculable.” Like the Whites, though, many were just out of harm’s way.

Maria Villasenor, a WSU alumna and former editor-in-chief of The Signpost, who graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s in both journalism and anthropology, lives in Hamilton Heights in Manhattan, but was not in the evacuation zone.

“We didn’t lose power; the lights just kind of flickered,” she said. “I live on the fifth floor, though, so we could feel the wind hitting the building and a little swaying.”

She said her neighborhood has minimal damage because it is hilly. Her local grocery stores and coffee shop remained open Tuesday afternoon.
Although Villasenor said she was worried about her friends around the city, she said she wasn’t worried about the storm overall because she’d never dealt with a hurricane before.

“I came home from work Monday with just one gallon of water, and my roommate who is from Florida said, ‘Is that really all the water you’re buying?’” Villasenor said. “So I went right back out and bought another gallon!”

Mike Brice, a WSU student in the Master of Professional Communication program who lives in Pittsburgh, Penn., said previously living in Utah and preparing for possible earthquakes helped him and his girlfriend prepare for the worst. He said they began to discuss what they should do if they lost power in the middle of last week.

“Since we recently moved, many of our emergency supplies like sleeping bags and lanterns were still in boxes,” Brice said. “In Utah, we had places planned out that we would meet if for some reason we couldn’t make it home, but in this new city we hadn’t done that yet, so we established a meeting place.”

He said although his area was expected to get a lot of flooding, they’ve seemed to missed the brunt of the storm.

Frances Kelsey, a WSU alumna who graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s in history and European studies, also missed the worst of the damage while on vacation. She had planned to visit Baltimore with her fiance to see family before they knew about the storm.

“We knew there was going to be a possibility of it affecting Baltimore before we left Utah,” Kelsey said. “We also knew the areas we were in would not be as affected as much as many others.”

Kelsey said her brother went to the store on Monday to buy emergency supplies, but found the shelves holding bottled water and batteries were bare. The power at her brother and sister-in-law’s house did not go off, although their ceiling began to leak Monday night and her brother had to drill holes in it to keep it from caving in.

“We were a lot more lucky than some other people who are now either having to repair their homes or wait until they can drain them out, and some are even having to find new homes, so we lucked out,” Kelsey said.

Melanie Nimmo, who graduated from WSU in December of 2011 with a bachelor’s in criminal justice, said in a Facebook message that she was worried about her family back East.

“It’s an emotional toll when you know there’s nothing you can do but pray for family members when you cannot be with them to aid and support in such tough times,” she wrote. “All you want to do is be there to help in any way you can.”

Nimmo’s family in New York were in Miami during the storm for the Iron Man Competition, and her family in Pennsylvania had roof damage and power outages, but is safe.

April Jipson, a WSU junior studying communications, said she is from the East Coast and most of her friends and family still live out there. However, she contacted and heard from all her loved ones Tuesday and found out everyone, including her mother with Parkinson’s disease who would have been unable to evacuate, is safe.

“I’ve only been in Utah for about three years,” she said. “I’ve been through east coast hurricanes and I know how bad it can be so of course you always think the worst immediately.”

White said he would have thought the worst but his parents and sister were so busy trying to get out of New York that they didn’t keep the rest of the family completely in the loop about what was happening.

“Once I found out what a rushed effort it was for them to get out and that they found a way to get to Atlanta, I was so relieved,” he said. “So relieved.”