When Hurricane Irma drew a bead on Southwest Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University was ready to serve its students and the larger community as well.
During the storm and afterward, roughly 2,000 Southwest Florida evacuees — some with special physical needs — and the approximately 250 pets took refuge in Alico Arena, along with Lutgert and Marieb halls. They were joined by the Army National Guardsmen and American Red Cross team who staged here, and about 200 FGCU students who weathered the storm at Eagle Hall.
Two of the evacuees from the community, Lois and Rich Fein of Estero, were so grateful for the treatment they received as unexpected guests at Alico Arena for three days that they immediately sent a thank-you note to FGCU Athletics Director Ken Kavanagh.
“We don’t know any names except yours and Ruth Rodrigues’ (director of campus reservations and management), but realize that there were a number of wonderful volunteers taking care of us there,” wrote the Feins, ardent fans of Eagle basketball. “We know that FGCU people were very kind and extremely helpful to a group of elderly women from our community who were without some basic supplies and needed assistance. … Being able to take refuge in a familiar and happy place was quite comforting for us. It felt like home. Thanks again for all that you do.”
The university proved to be well prepared because of the advance preparation, continuous communication and post-storm recovery efforts of the 22-member FGCU Emergency Advisory Council and members of the Campus Police, Physical Plant and Housing & Residence Life departments — along with other FGCU faculty, staff and students who worked tirelessly — that you might find it hard to believe that a major hurricane struck the campus barely a week ago. Some trees are down, others have been stabilized with 2-by-4s and there is some minor damage to a few buildings and facilities, but the university stands almost exactly as it did prior to closing Sept. 7 as the monster storm approached.
“Hurricane Irma has certainly given us a multitude of challenges, but together FGCU has risen to the occasion,” FGCU President Mike Martin said Wednesday during a Facebook Live address. “It’s a tribute to the hard work and dedication of many members of our campus community.”
Beyond the campus, the FGCU family has reached out to a region still reeling from the storm’s wrath, with many students and staff already helping in recovery efforts.
Of course, there will be some adjustments to make. Because the university was closed for nine days, the academic calendar will be extended so as not to compromise the integrity of the semester, and revised commencement ceremonies will take place Dec. 16. Details will be announced soon.
But as Martin, who himself bunked in the Campus Support Complex for two nights during the ordeal, puts it in the Facebook Live address he delivered as FGCU reopened fully for classes Wednesday, “We will not waver from our commitment, indeed our obligation, to provide every student with the full educational experience they deserve.”
Check out what the campus looks like after Hurricane Irma
READ STORM STORIES
All across campus, the FGCU community rose to the challenge of sheltering and protecting, informing and comforting, cleaning up and rebuilding due to Hurricane Irma. As Alico Arena shelter manager Ruth Rodrigues put it, “The FGCU spirit of service surfaced everywhere”:
- University Police worked around the clock to ensure safety and even helped save at least one life.
- Housing staff hunkered down with 200 students who couldn’t leave campus in Eagle Hall.
- WGCU aired 24/7 news coverage as rarely before.
- Marieb Hall’s healthcare teaching facilities were pressed into real-life service.
- Students responded quickly to the storm-ravaged community by volunteering across Southwest Florida.
Read these and others:
Storm by the numbers
- 2,016: People sheltered at FGCU before and after storm
- 250: Pets who stayed at FGCU, including 9 rabbits, a turtle, an iguana and a bearded dragon
- 200: FGCU student sheltered at university
- 25: Number of student staff members who worked with students in Eagle Hall during storm
- 8: Days university served as evacuation shelter
- 7: Days university was closed
- 4: Number of buildings used to house public and students
- 0: Buildings without power when campus reopened Sept. 20
Important university resources
Watch aerial video of FGCU campus: Sept. 19