Kent State alumni face wrath of Hurricane Irma

An uprooted tree sits on top of a Florida home after Hurricane Irma.

Cameron Gorman

Hurricane Irma, which has devastated Florida and portions of surrounding areas, is also affecting the Kent State alumni who now call the state home.

“During the worst part, you couldn’t see, you know, five feet,” said alumnus Billy Gruszewski, who graduated with an integrated mathematics degree in 2015. “Like, that’s all you could really see. And then the rest was just sheets of wind and rain and then sometimes in the distance, you’ll hear something crashing or like a tree falling, but you can’t really tell where it was.”

Gruszewski moved to Florida, where he lives with his boyfriend, a computer engineer, in Coconut Creek. His apartment was hit by the storm Saturday night.

“There’s a lot of trees that were uprooted, and a lot of the roads are still, like, a tree is on … the whole road and people are just going off the road and driving around it,” Gruszewski said. “There’s a lot of cars that are damaged (because) trees just fell directly on it, but I mean, compared to what it could have been, damage isn’t that bad. We got pretty lucky, but there is still damage.”

News of the storm began to worry him eventually, but he decided to stay in his apartment instead of choosing to evacuate, as did fellow alumnus Matthew Chernesky, who graduated in the spring of 2017 with a political science degree.

“But there’s like a Floridian saying: ‘You evacuate for water and you shelter for wind,’ and since I’m too inland, I wasn’t really worried about the storm surge as much as I was worried about the severe winds, because the winds that they were predicting us originally getting  — those could tear roofs off of houses, damage walls and everything — but eventually I decided (to) just hunker down in my apartment with my roommate and dog,” Chernesky said.

Not all, however, decided to stay in their residences. Dylan Rzepka, who graduated from Kent State as an architecture major last year, decided to evacuate.

“We did evacuate, but back then when I was first researching, or first hearing about it, I didn’t think anything about evacuating,” Rzepka said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, cool it’s going to be my first hurricane. I’m going from snowstorms to hurricanes. It’s a big difference.'”

Rzepka moved from his apartment in Miami to his girlfriend’s grandparents’ house in Lake Worth, where he said the storm’s effects amounted to “a big nothing.” He noted, however, that from sources such as Snapchat’s Snap Map feature, conditions in Miami were likely much worse, including downed trees and lost electricity.

“The panic is actually worse than the storm,” Rzepka said. “Two days or three days before the storm hit, I went to Costco just to grab some bottled water, because you’d think Costco would have a lot of water. The lines actually wrapped all the way around to the back of the store. There was no water and people were going crazy. That was the minute that I knew, ‘Hey, maybe this is a little bit bigger than I thought. There’s no water here. (I’m) going to have to buy sparkling water and Gatorade just to survive for a few days.'”

Chernesky estimated that, as of Monday, there were around 600,000 people in Tampa Bay without power.

“I would say in the evening when the track started shifting back east and Irma was supposed to go toward the Orlando area, I think we started breathing a sigh of relief. But when I woke up today, there was just an incredible sense of community,” Chernesky said. “Lots of people posting on Facebook pages saying how they’re willing to help drive people from evacuation centers back to their houses, willing to pick up tree branches and everything, and then even there’s a national sense of community too.”

For now, those in Florida, including the Kent State alumni, are keeping their eyes on the next possible hurricane: Jose.

“Now I’m actually getting worried about Jose, the next one, because it’s doing the very similar track with the loop around then come west again,” Rzepka said. “So we’ll see if that one fizzles out or comes and hits us.”

Cameron Gorman is the features correspondent, contact her at [email protected].