When I transferred to UNCW in the fall of 2018 I had thought I had already experienced my share of natural disasters. I spent my freshman year in the mountains dealing with wildfires, then ice and snowstorms, before I decided to take a year off and work in Florida. Hurricane Irma was the first time I had to deal with a hurricane without my parents telling me what needed to be done, and soon after I watched the devastation that Hurricane Maria had on my friends from Puerto Rico and their families. In a truly inspired move, I transferred to UNCW thinking that hurricanes wouldn’t be a huge issue.
Hurricane Florence was a bizarre experience. I grew up in North Carolina and for the most part, none of us were that concerned about it. It wasn’t a particularly strong hurricane, so I went to my mom’s house in Hampstead. Florence made landfall directly across the Intercoastal Waterway from the house and spent days ravaging the North Carolina coast. It went from an ordinary hurricane to a devastating storm. My family was really lucky. Our house is set back from the water and halfway up a decent hill, so storm surge tore off part of our dock but never reached the house. We had wind and water damage, but nothing that would force us out of the house. We cleaned up after the hurricane and were prepared to move on. Roads were still closed and many in the area had completely washed away so we were still figuring out the full impact of what had happened. My big worry was when I would be able to go back to school.
Once power and internet was restored we were able to see how devastating Hurricane Florence had been. I grew up going to Surf City every weekend and the town released drone footage of the island because it was still nearly impossible to reach by car. The sand in the streets was covering road signs and our favorite restaurant would have to be completely gutted because the damage was so severe. In Hampstead and Wilmington roads had been washed away leaving people stranded. People all over the state rallied around coastal communities, many of which are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence. A sophomore at my high school organized truckloads of donations to be brought to Wilmington. UNCW students organized a group to help rebuild homes and distribute donations. People are resilient. We rallied and rebuilt the best we could.
Hurricane Dorian the next fall was nowhere near as devastating. We missed a week of school at most and thought that would be our big event for the school year. Then over an extended spring break, we found out that we would need to empty our dorms and return home for the remainder of the semester. In early March none of us knew how bad Covid-19 would be, and it had barely been on the news. In the span of two weeks, it went from a footnote to the main subject. Over 250,000 Americans have died since then, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Collectively, we need to work to overcome this the same way we work to get supplies and aid to victims of hurricanes and wildfires.
Covid-19 is inherently different from other disasters most people alive today have experienced. While we know what to do after fires and hurricanes, none of us have experienced a health crisis on this level. H1N1 and Ebola were in the news, but it wasn’t something that was devastating across the globe. It is harder for us to understand, and because it is a new virus there isn’t a medical best practice yet. Because of the early lack of information publicly available, the novel Coronavirus became a political tool in an election year. Alarmingly, political rhetoric around Covid-19 seems to be the most dividing factor on how it is handled. In historically conservative states people that are elected to serve and protect their constituents are continuing to represent this crisis as a matter of personal freedoms or refuse to publicly recommend that constituents follow CDC guidelines. People adapt well to overcome crises that they understand, but the uncertain nature of this pandemic seems to have left some people unable to adapt.
The American people as a whole are remarkably resilient and adapt to overcome seemingly any crisis. After the wildfires in 2016, my friends and I watched as towns were rebuilt after entirely burning down. Gatlinburg was destroyed just a week or two after we took a weekend trip, and today it looks almost the same as it did when we visited. In 2017, people all over Florida worked together to organize aid and supplies for the victims of Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Florence brought waves of support from people all over North Carolina. Time and time again we have seen people rally around those in need. Once the rhetoric surrounding Covid-19 becomes less divisive and there is a greater understanding of the virus, history suggests that once again people will adapt and overcome.
Written by Savannah Gibson. You can learn more about Savannah and our other blog writers by clicking the “Our Team” banner at the top!