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Students evacuated from ECSU ahead of storm

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Freshman Krystal Lopez (left), of Four Oaks, and sophomore Jalyn Garner, of Jacksonville, carry their belongings as they evacuate their dorm rooms at University Suites on the Elizabeth City State University campus, Tuesday afternoon. The university closed dormitories and evacuated students Tuesday because of the expected impact of Hurricane Florence.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Students leaving Elizabeth City State University’s University Suites Tuesday agreed the university made a wise call closing the campus and evacuating students ahead of Hurricane Florence.

“I feel like they made the right decision,” said freshman Jairese Jones, who was headed home to Raleigh shortly before noon. Jones said “Raleigh is going to be kind of crazy, too” — citing forecasts calling for torrential rainfall in the capital city — but she still indicated she’d feel safer at home.

Jones and another freshman, Kennedy Bunch from Brooklyn, N.Y., explained that they put everything they left in their first-floor dorm rooms on top of the bed or wardrobe in case of flooding. The current forecast calls for the Elizabeth City area to get between 7 and 10 inches of rainfall from the storm that’s now projected to arrive either late Thursday or early Friday.

Jones expressed concern for those students unable to leave the campus who will be housed in an emergency shelter at the R.L. Vaughan Center.

“It seems like everybody is leaving,” Jones said. “But I know there have got to be a few that couldn’t leave.”

In fact, ECSU has 13 students who plan to ride out the storm at the Vaughan Center.

Interim Chancellor Karrie Dixon said Tuesday afternoon that the decision to evacuate the campus was made in the interest of student safety. University officials began meeting to discuss Hurricane Florence’s approach the first thing Monday morning and were involved in conference calls with all 17 institutions in the University of North Carolina System, she said.

ECSU officials also were in contact with Christy Saunders of Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Management and monitored reports from the National Weather Service, Dixon said.

Dixon said the university also began making plans in case the voluntary evacuation for Pasquotank County were to become a mandatory evacuation. University officials have been talking to other UNC institutions about possible places for students to go in the event of a mandatory evacuation.

UNC-Charlotte officials said they could accommodate up to 20 students, Dixon said. UNC-Wilmington, which evacuated its students earlier this week, already is planning to use UNC-Charlotte as a shelter for its students, she said.

Dixon said ECSU staff plan to continue talking with UNC campuses in the “far west” of the state, such as UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University about the possibility of sending students there. That contingency plan would only take effect if the evacuation were upgraded to mandatory, Dixon explained.

Moziah McDowell, a junior from Fayetteville, said he wouldn’t want to be on campus during severe weather.

“I’ve seen all this rain and stuff before,” McDowell said. “This campus gets flooded like crazy, too.”

McDowell noted this is the first evacuation he’s experienced while a student at ECSU. The Vaughan Center is a good choice for the shelter because it’s safe, he said.

Robert Kelly-Goss, ECSU spokesman, said the Vaughan Center is connected to a generator so it will be able to provide electrical service in the event of a power outage. It’s also both a large and safe structure, he said.

“It has traditionally been used as a shelter,” he said of the Vaughan Center.

McDowell said everyone he had talked to was leaving campus and heading home.

Jalyn Garner, a sophomore from Jacksonville, said he was headed to Maryland instead of home because Jacksonville is likely to be hit hard by the storm. He said his mother had already left for Maryland and he will be meeting her there.

“I was going to stay if they didn’t close down the dormitories because it’s not my first hurricane that I’ve been through,” Garner said.

Freshman Krystal Lopez said students are supposed to return to campus on Monday if conditions allow. For now she’s headed home to Four Oaks.

Lopez said she would have left even if the campus had not been evacuated.

“I was already going to leave anyway,” Lopez said.

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