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Hurricane Ian hit close for FGCU students; Alico Arena became their home-away-from-home

Photo courtesy of FGCU.
Special to WGCU
Front doors to the Cohen Student Union are boarded up after Hurricane Ian.

Ahead of Hurricane Ian making landfall, students on campus were told to evacuate their dorms and head home or to FGCU’s storm shelter: Alico Arena.

For those who stayed at the campus shelter, it was an experience like no other, especially if you were someone working for Housing and Residence Life. One of their number, Osprey Hall Resident Assistant Halle Scheinman, shared her thoughts on it:

“A lot of stress came from the hurricane coming our way and being in a shelter with people you don’t know; being faced with a situation I never had to encounter before,” Scheinman, a senior, said. “I was happy to work and help in any way that eased the minds of the residents.”

Students were sheltered in Alico Arena for three full days. Breakfast was served from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. — fruit and a muffin, but students could also get a bottle of water and yogurt.

Throughout the day, people would sleep, read, talk, play board games and walk around the arena. They did anything they could to keep busy amidst the storm. Alico Arena never lost power.

Photo courtesy of Lolarose Deforges.
Special to WGCU
Students stayed in Alico Arena during Hurricane Ian on mattress’ and sleeping bags. The students had to stay in the shelter for four days, until housing staff made sure the dorms were safe for students to return.

“It was an uncomfortable experience because I did not originally plan on going,” Junior Lolarose Deforges said. “I didn’t come prepared. Some people had blow-up mattresses, but I was just on the floor on a small quilt. Being in there was bearable up until the last day and night when we lost water. It is an experience I will not forget.”

Lunch would be served around noon. They got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chips and bottled water. Dinner was eaten at 6 p.m. and always consisted of some variation of a sub, chips and bottled water. Daytime and nighttime mostly consisted of the same activities, as there wasn’t much to do in the shelter.

“I think most people were stressed, but able to find enjoyment in small things like reading a book or talking with friends,” Senior Sammi Whaley, West Lake Village’s residence life team assistant, said. “Towards the end, I think everyone was getting restless and just needed to get out.”

There were around 200 people that stayed in the shelter.

“It felt strange to realize that I was in a shelter with 200-plus people that were, for the most part, strangers. I was very fortunate to have stuck by people I knew and trusted while being there,” Whaley, a senior, said. “It also made me realize how many small things I take for granted, like getting to sleep in my own bed or just simply brushing my teeth in the morning with peace and quiet. It was an experience but hopefully something I will never again have to go through.”

Being only nine miles from the Gulf of Mexico, FGCU was fortunate to suffer only minor damages to campus.

Michael Braun
Workers from U.S. Sugar, delayed from harvest due to Hurricane Ian flooding cane fields, assisted with cleanup on the FGCU campus in the days after the storm passed through.

“FGCU was fortunate, as our main campus experienced minimal damage due to Hurricane Ian. For the most part, our losses were more cosmetic, or quick-to-fix, in nature,” Pamela McCabe, coordinator of University Communications and Media Relations, said.

Several trees around campus were toppled and a few windows broken in various buildings. The last “A” in Alico Arena fell off during the storm and the soccer bleachers and goalpost were mangled in the wind. The storm also damaged some of the panels in the solar field.

The on-campus daycare facility, Little Eagles Learning Center, sustained damage to the sun shade over its outdoor playground, requiring it to be removed before reopening. However, flooding wasn’t an issue for the main campus.

Since Hurricane Ian, FGCU has launched two initiatives to help faculty, students and staff that have been impacted by the disaster. Eagles in Need is a relief fund to help students, faculty and staff with one-time emergency rewards. Students may be eligible for $500, and employees may be eligible for $1,000. The Hurricane Ian Disaster Leave Program is an opportunity for staff and faculty to donate leave to a pool, which will be distributed among employees who suffered severe hardship.

The story originally appeared on eaglenews.org.
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