Preparing for Florence as a clueless Californian

I’d never experienced a hurricane before, but I was determined to be prepared

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I first knew something was wrong when I received a text from my childhood babysitter on Sep. 9, reading, “You’re like, 200 miles from the coast, right?”

It had been a sunny beginning of the school year in Charlottesville with high heat and humidity. Each morning on my way to classes, I’d opt for the bus over the 15-minute walk in hopes of avoiding looking like a melting Wicked Witch of the West upon arrival. Although I love the summertime, I began to wonder when temperatures would drop — little did I know, the climate would soon change drastically, but not in the way I’d hoped.

I quickly learned that a massive hurricane, dubbed Florence, would be hitting the East Coast with a direct path towards Charlottesville. I assumed we were so far inland that we’d be unaffected, but as soon as my phone started blowing up with text messages and emails, I learned otherwise.

As a Californian, I’d never experienced a hurricane before. I can tell you what a serious earthquake and aftershock feels like, and I can describe waking up to a sky of charcoal black and getting evacuated due to a nearby wildfire. The Pacific Ocean is relatively calm, however, and hurricanes were something I’d only heard about or seen on TV.

As soon as I realized I might need to prepare for a natural disaster, I started asking questions.

Immediately, everyone I talked to warned me to buy water before it was too late.

“But isn’t an excess of water the issue in a hurricane?” I asked. Boy, I had a lot to learn.

Multiple family members and friends from home contacted me asking what my emergency plan was, if I had non-perishable food, if I had a flashlight with extra batteries, etc. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one reading up on emergency preparedness.

Though the University had sent out multiple emails briefing us on the safety measures we should be taking, the world as I knew it seemed pretty normal — the sun was shining, people were going to class in shorts and t-shirts, nobody was panicking. It wasn’t until I overheard someone in my Tuesday morning class say Costco was out of water that I started to worry — Costco was my backup-backup plan for survival goods.

I immediately called my friend and told her we needed to go shopping after class. She picked me up outside of Wilson Hall, and we strategically — or so we thought — plugged in the address of a Kroger further away. To our dismay, the parking lot was like an outlet mall on Black Friday — navigating the cars and crowds was the most complicated part of the outing.

As we browsed the aisles for non-perishable goods, I tried to remember the types of snacks I’d buy for dorms my first year — soup, peanut butter, pretzels, pickles, granola. To say the least, my diet would be a bit wacky in the upcoming days if Florence struck.

We may as well have entered a ghost town when we got to the water aisle, except there were a few other baffled college students staring at the shelves too. It seemed that many people had given up on the thought of finding water, as one woman in the checkout line had her entire cart filled with Diet Pepsi. Luckily, we found a 5-gallon jug of water made for a water dispenser near the shopping carts.

After grabbing the last few flashlights and batteries from Lowe’s, we made our way back to our house, where we lugged all the groceries — and the 5-gallon water jug — to our room in the attic. I plugged in all my devices, got out my rain jacket and found my umbrella. I was ready for Florence.

By the time we found out classes weren’t cancelled, I began to question what was up. Each night, I wondered if a massive storm would hit, and each morning, I looked out the window to see a pretty typical rainy day in Charlottesville. Keeping up with the weather channel, I learned that the path of the hurricane had shifted a bit, and we wouldn’t be hit as hard. Still, I waited. Nothing.

Although Charlottesville wasn’t really affected by Florence, I learned a lot about emergency preparedness, and it was valuable to understand the necessary steps to take in the event of a hurricane. If we had experienced flooding or a power outage, it’s nice to know I would have been prepared. I’m thankful that we’re okay at the University, and my thoughts and prayers go out to places, such as Wilmington N.C., that haven’t been so fortunate. I’m confident we’ll come together as a nation to help provide support and relief like we usually do.

Even though I love California and may return home at some point in my life, I’m sure this won’t be the last hurricane during my stint on the East Coast. Though we now have a bunch of unnecessary food and water in our room in the attic, I know it’s better safe than sorry — and at least for a few weeks, we won’t have to go down four flights of stairs to get a snack.

Katherine Firsching is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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