Robert and Hilda Leuver were determined to beat the crowd as they left Palm Beach Gardens Wednesday morning, fleeing the state just hours before Florida administered a mandatory evacuation for their home town. With their dog and their cat in tow, the two headed up to New Haven to visit daughter Mary Ellen ’06, leaving behind an apartment and a new house 90 percent on its way to completion.
The Leuvers were not taking any chances, and neither was the state. With reports that the Category 4 Hurricane Frances was heading for the southeast coast of Florida, 2.8 million residents in parts of 41 counties were evacuated — the largest evacuation in Florida’s history, according to CNN.com.
The storm hit Saturday afternoon and continued into Sunday, and while the hurricane has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, it continues to be a source of much damage.
Yale geophysics professor Steven Sherwood, a specialist in weather and climate, explained that hurricanes are categorized on a 1-5 scale based on wind speeds, and although Frances’ class has been downgraded, the size of the storm still means it remains dangerous.
“The thing about this storm is that it’s very large — so that means it could be dropping a lot of rain even though the wind speeds are not a category five or something like that,” he said.
Sherwood also pointed out that although high winds are very dangerous, flooding is most often the cause of significant economic damage.
This past summer was an eventful one for Yale’s Floridian students, as their home state was rocked by Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley, which hit the state just over three weeks ago.
Mary Ellen Leuver, who moved to Florida only one year ago from her home state of Colorado, described herself as “new to this whole hurricane thing.” On late Saturday evening the storm hit Juno Beach, six miles from her home in Palm Beach Gardens.
“It’s really weird,” she said. “When it actually hit at about 11 o’clock last night, I was just completely befuddled. It feels surreal. Seeing the map blown up and seeing CNN pointing to my town, it just doesn’t feel real.”
Due to power losses in her town, Leuver has not been able contact her friends or learn any details about the damage.
“It’s hard to be away,” Leuver said. “Because we are moving, all my stuff is in storage, which is flimsy, so it’s probably gone. All that I know I own is in my dorm room here at Yale.”
While the Leuvers made haste to leave the state, other students and their families — some of whom had experienced Hurricane Andrew in 1992 — were more nonchalant about the entire situation.
Michael Bustamante ’06, who has lived in southeast Florida for nearly all of his life, said his grandmother initially shirked evacuation orders and refused to even leave her beach-front apartment in North Palm Beach. Eventually, she was convinced to come stay with his parents, who were not evacuated from their home in Jupiter.
“You sort of become used to hurricane season and the routine,” Bustamante said.
He said his family always follows recommended precautions by keeping hurricane shutters, generators, bottled water and canned foods in the house. But even with such preparations, Bustamante said this storm did concern him.
“For this one I was kind of nervous, just because it looked like the center of it was heading for my town,” he said.
As it turned out, though streets are flooded and there is no running water, Bustamante’s home was left undamaged. He was also able to contact his family.
For Cory Needle ’06, who lives in South Miami, Hurricane Frances did not prove particularly worrisome; however, having experienced firsthand the horror of Hurricane Andrew, he understands just how scary these storms can be.
“[During Hurricane Andrew], my family was huddled up together inside my family’s closet, because it was the only room in the house that didn’t have windows,” Needle said. “When we woke up, people’s roofs were gone, and our house had changed color.”
Though Needle’s immediate family was not evacuated for Hurricane Frances, his grandparents were forced to leave their Palm Beach residence. Needle said not being in Florida made the situation even more difficult.
“Being away from home, there’s a strong sense of uncertainty,” Needle said. “Although weather technology has improved so much, it’s just hard to know where it’s gonna hit.”
Needle is a staff photographer for the Yale Daily News.
For Leuver, this storm has turned what used to be a distant hypothetical into a very tangible reality.
“It’s honestly life-changing; it really is,” she said. “I used to watch it with academic interest on TV, and now I’m watching it with emotional interest.”
But for all of Florida’s hurricane warnings or tropical storm alerts, most Floridian students remain loyal to their home state.
“I love my state,” Laura Greer ’07 said. “I think that it’s a sacrifice you make for living in a beautiful warm climate with beautiful beaches.”
On Sunday evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami announced that the storm was moving west-northwest at 10 mph and could possibly regain strength as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico overnight.
As for the Leuvers — who will be taking their time driving back to Florida this week — they will be happy to see Frances go.