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Muh’s News: Hurricanes put deep economic toll on the South

Hurricane Florence caused more than $17 billion in damage. What will Matthew's impact be on Georgia?

October 8, 2018

Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm on Friday, September 14, near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The powerful storm battered the coast with storm surges as high as 13 feet and wind gusts upwards of 100 miles per hour on top of dumping over 20 inches of rain in certain areas as it crawled along the Carolina coast.

Florence sat on top of the Carolina coast for 3 days, only moving west at speeds as slow as 2 miles per hour at times. Areas along the coastline of North Carolina experienced massive amounts of damage, including dramatic flooding, downed trees and power lines, and contaminated water. Over 30 inches of rain flooded areas in southeastern North Carolina, destroying homes and property and leaving too many homeless. According to Fortune, more than 691,000 people in the Carolinas lost power within hours of storm’s arrival. In Wilmington, North Carolina, over 5.25 million gallons of wastewater spilled into the Cape Fear River after generators failed at a water treatment plant, leaving the water contaminated and unsafe.

According to CBS News, all in all, Hurricane Florence is expected to have done over $17 billion in damage.

I have a strong connection to the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence. I have family that live on Wrightsville Beach and in Wilmington, North Carolina, which is just east of Wrightsville Beach, both of which have been heavily affected by the storm.

Now more than two weeks after the storm, my family is recovering from the damage. Their communities are working tirelessly to pick up the pieces of whatever is left from the storm’s destruction. While they are making good progress in recovery, one thing still seems to be an issue: school.

With all of the mandatory evacuations issued for impact areas of Hurricane Florence and school closures in other areas located in the storm’s path, hundreds of thousands of students were displaced and out of school. Now that the storm has passed, most of those students are back in school and making up for the lost days missed because of it. However, some students still have not been able to return to school. Whether that displacement is due to damage to school buildings or damage to students’ individual residences, some students are still not back in school even though it has been over two weeks since the storm hit.

For most schools incapable for having students present due to damage from the storm, school districts are sending students to alternative schools or other local schools until it is safe enough for students to return to their original schools. The same goes for individual students who may have been displaced or are now homeless due to damage to their homes per the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, part of which gives homeless youth equal rights and access to public education.

Decisions on how to conduct school in the wake of natural disasters are typically left up to the individual schools and school districts to handle, which begs the question: how does McIntosh and the Fayette County Board of Education (FCBoE) handle situations such as these?

“[The FCBoE] actually has some pretty good protocols in place on how to deal with natural disasters,” said assistant principal, Mr. Keith Haber. Mr. Haber is in charge of community relations for McIntosh, which puts him at the head of the discussion about school closures due to inclement weather and other natural disasters.

Haber admitted that there is always a level of uncertainty when it comes to natural disasters, but that the school system works to manage them as effectively as possible. For instances in which there are adequate warnings far in advance of natural disasters like hurricanes and snowstorms, it is a bit easier to determine how to handle any conducting of school. However, it gets more difficult in situations like tornadoes and earthquakes where there could be little to no warnings at all.

“A lot of it is just dealing with timing: when we get the information, making those adjustments, and making the best decision as quickly as we possibly can but also with the mindset that we want to make a good decision based upon the facts that are set in front of us,” Haber said. He expressed that timing truly is key in these types of situations. The farther in advance the district receives notice of a natural disaster that could potentially impact the area, the better they can plan for it.

Along with the issue of timing comes the practicality of having school in the wake of these situations.

“One thing that we’ll look at is the danger for the area, and there are two parts to this. We’ll look at the dangers to the individual buildings themselves, and then also transportation,” Haber said. “If any of the schools can’t be accessed because of some sort of damage, the tendency is to shut down schools so we don’t have this weird kind of one-school-is-in-for-180-days-and-one-school-is-in-for-179-days situation. The other component we’ll look at is also the physical buildings. Is the school still secure and safe and will it be secure and safe for the entire day?” Both of these components are typically huge factors for whether or not schools will close in the midst of natural disasters in school districts across the country.

This situation is not foreign to McIntosh and the rest of Fayette County.

Last year when Hurricane Irma came through the area, Fayette County schools closed for three days due to safety concerns. Originally, the FCBoE decided to close schools for the two days in which Hurricane Irma was set to directly impact the district, but upon examining the damage and accessibility to individual schools, they determined that schools would close for one more day until all schools in the district could be accessed and safe enough for students to return.

Overall, the protocol on how the school system handles natural disasters keeps student safety as its first priority. The goal is to allow students to continue learning in as safe an environment as possible, but if students’ safety is threatened due to natural disaster, measures need to be taken in order to protect it, even if that means closing schools.

As Haber expressed, “we work with our district office to plan for these things so we are prepared when it happens because we want every student to be as successful as possible.”

If you are interested in providing aid to the victims of Hurricane Florence, please visit the American Red Cross website for more information.

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