PSC perseveres despite Sally’s destruction

PSC perseveres despite Sally’s destruction

Photos by Shea Dixon

The students and staff of Pensacola State College (PSC) held their breath as Hurricane Sally began her devastating path of destruction through Northwest Florida September 16.

The bands surrounding Hurricane Sally lashed at the coastlines for over 24 hours, causing life-threatening six-foot coastal storm surges as it stalled over the ocean. After the storm, 30 inches of rain was estimated to have been collected.

A major factor of Sally was the fact that there was little to no prep time before the storm made landfall. Few were aptly prepared for the hurricane because Sally was not anticipated to hit Pensacola. 

“We didn’t really prepare for the storm because we had been told Sally was not going to be that big of a deal,” student Marley Reynolds said.

The trunk of a downed tree sits along the side of the road at the PSC campus.
After Hurricane Sally, the grounds on campus were littered with natural debris.

Hurricanes are sometimes thought to be completely predictable. Enough so, that if a hurricane is headed your way, many think they can bunker down and ride it out, or if it is severe enough, evacuate and avoid it entirely. 

 “I did nothing to prepare for the storm, I was actually in Mobile on Sunday when I realized it had shifted, so I [evacuated to] Pensacola, only to realize a day later we would be hit here,” alumni Trey Hall said. “I don’t think anyone in Pensacola was ready for what happened.”

Once the storm has reached the shore, the time to prepare has ended and all that can be done is attempt to ride out the weather.

Student David Seward woke up to the storm around 5:30 a.m., and after making his way to the living room, he discovered that it was flooded several inches deep. “My living room turned into a kiddie pool,” Seward said.

Seward and his family didn’t expect the flood. They were prepared for everything else but since they haven’t experienced a hurricane before, they didn’t know how to prepare for it. 

In addition to the stress from the storm, Seward’s house is surrounded by trees. However, despite high winds, no trees fell onto his house. The most damage his house experienced was some shingles that came off of the roof. 

The feelings of anxiety and stress were palpable among those along the Gulf Coast.

“This hurricane, I was by myself, with just my roommates. This hurricane made me feel uneasy, being away from home. I didn’t get much sleep,” student-athlete Cheyenne Strickland said.  

Some students took comfort in being with friends or family.

“I felt safe being in the dorms because I was around people who could take care of me and be there for me if something were to happen,” student-athlete Jade Hill said.

On campus, after most of the student-athletes lost all of their food due to the power outage, Hill explained that their coaches not only brought them groceries but also grilled fresh food for all of them. 

Director of Adult Education, Dr. Debra Meyer hadn’t realized the severity of the storm until she almost got struck by a falling tree limb while taking her dog for a walk.

Fortunately, Dr. Meyer and her dog were unharmed, but this close call serves as a reminder of just how unsuspecting Northwest Florida was to this natural disaster. 

After the storm had passed, Seward, along with most of the city, had no power. It would be around 5 days before Seward and his family got their power back. 

Most experienced some sort of power outage, some for only a mere few minutes, others up to eight days. 

When Seward decided to go out to observe the damage caused by the storm, “Seeing all the power lines dangling on the road was really post-apocalyptic looking,” he said. 

Many people were not aware that the very eye of the hurricane passed directly over them.

A national disaster truck parked on the PSC campus.
PSC has now become the headquarters for the National Disaster Team following Hurricane Sally.

Confusion ensued as people took it upon themselves to start debris removal during the eye of the hurricane, thinking the storm to be over.

“They were even out walking their dogs,” student Veronica Lockamy said.

The people of Pensacola had every right to be upset and deflated. Instead, many express hope and gratitude that the sustained damage was not more severe. 

“Luckily we were spared,” student Dustin Reddin said. 

Student Jaelynn Hines, whose apartment was damaged, explained that in the future she will gladly take precaution and be prepared the next time there is a hurricane warning. “This hurricane has really impacted me,” Hines said.

However, while hurricanes sometimes expose the good in people, they equally prove the negativity that manifests in people. 

Student Tyler O’Day experienced this negativity at Academy Sports + Outdoors where he is an employee. “A lot of people came in hoarding camping supplies, like propane grills and things able to cook with,” O’Day said.

A crane fixes the LCD PSC sign.
Restoration crews are hard at work to rebuild parts of campus, including the LCD sign.

Sally caused PSC to be closed for one week, followed by a week of suspended classes. When school resumed, PSC had to decide on how to make up the two weeks of class that was lost. 

They ultimately chose alternating Friday classes. While this solution works for students who have flexible schedules, this is difficult for those who work. 

Seward said that this strategy works for him due to his limited work schedule. However, he saw this as problematic for students with full-time jobs. “Outside of school, practically everyone has a job,” Seward said.

The students were not the only ones in recovery mode after Sally. PSC President Dr. Ed Meadows shared the struggles to restore the affected campuses in time for classes to resume. 

“It was a monumental effort on the entire college staff to get the college ready to open back up so that students have an opportunity to continue their studies. Academic Affairs worked very hard to come up with a good plan for students to make up their course work and still complete the semester on time,” Meadows said. 

College staff will continue to repair damages as quickly and effectively as possible. Renovations are expected to continue for the next six months according to Meadows. 

Reddin and Strickland were grateful for the extra time that PSC allowed for post-storm recovery. They noted that it allowed everyone to recover and help those who may have sustained heavier property damages. 

Warrington student Kaylan Richborgh fell victim to Sally when a tree caved in the roof of her home.

Richborgh was grateful for an extra week off of classes because it allowed her at least a week to find a replacement home for the time being. As of now, she is in a home with her partner’s family and is grateful for their help.

“Everything inside my car was wet and ruined my school supplies, there’s no way to access WIFI for classes,” said Destiny Mere, a freshman at PSC. 

Recovery for Mere wouldn’t have been possible without the shutdown. 

A minority found the break to be disconcerting and struggled to get back into the groove of the semester. “It was difficult for me to picture how the rest of the school year was going to work after having lost two weeks of school,” student Amelia O’Malley said. 

However, the majority interviewed agreed that they felt the two weeks were appropriate and that they were able to adequately return to classes. 

Meadows shared a confident view for the future, despite Sally threatening to undermine approaching semesters. 

A tree trunk which was ripped apart by Hurricane Sally.
This tree felt the full force of the devastating winds of Hurrican Sally.

“It can become overwhelming if you look at everything you have to do and you think you have to do it all at one time, but it’s just the matter of establishing the priorities of what comes first and what’s the most important to pay your attention to. And so you have to take one task at a time and one step at a time, then eventually that approach will give you the results that you need,” Meadows said.

The blessing in disguise, according to Strickland, is the synergy that was created amidst a community struck by disaster.  

“In the world, we have such a political divide, there’s a lot of hate that goes on and when such things like this go on, like disasters, people coming together just to help is really moving,” Strickland said. 

According to Reynolds, her neighborhood took action almost immediately to remove debris and clean up the area. They adopted a get-up and go attitude from seemingly nowhere to bring their homes back to a state of normalcy after utter chaos.

Reddin and Strickland noted this as a hallmark of America, people coming together for the good of the community, lifting each other up despite circumstances.

Editor-in-Chief Daniel Cheer; Dynamics Editor Shea Dixon; Layout Editor Enrique Viveros; Staff writers Madeline Hicks and Frank Young; and contributors Crystal Duc, Phylisia Johnson, Justin McGinnis, and Jaucental Pantlitz contributed to this report.