Category 2 Hurricane Irma touched down in Florida Sunday, battering the southwestern part of the state with sustained winds of 110 mph and severe flooding.
The storm is expected to move north Monday, heading toward Fort Myers and Tampa. In Naples, water levels rose above 9 feet over a three-hour span. Rain totals are estimated at 10-15 inches, with some areas expecting nearly 25 inches during the storm’s peak.
The National Hurricane Center warned people of the dangers of the storm, noting wind, storm surges and flash flooding as possibilities.
“There is imminent danger of life-threatening storm surge flooding along much of the Florida west coast,” it said in a statement. “Irma will bring life-threatening wind impacts to much of Florida, regardless of the exact track of the center. Intense rainfall rates of 2 to 4 inches per hour will lead to flash flooding.”
Members of the Ole Miss community have friends and family who have already been affected by the storm.
Suzy Smith graduated from Ole Miss in 2011 with a master’s in education. She has family in both Naples and Orlando.
“All of my family members decided to weather the storm,” she said. “I have friends who evacuated, though.”
She said her family members in Naples didn’t realize the severity of the storm until it was too late. Naples received the storm’s highest recorded winds, topping off at 142 mph.
“We thought the east coast of Florida would be hit harder and Naples and the interior would be fairly spared,” she said. “That doesn’t seem to be the case now. Naples took the full force of the eye.”
Power outages rolled through the state, making it difficult for Smith to stay in contact with her family.
“Their cell phone died, so I haven’t heard anything since right after the eye went through,” she said. “I’m hoping they can get a message to us through a neighbor or friend.”
With the storm scheduled to hit Tampa on Sunday evening, many people in the area chose to evacuate.
“My family evacuated as well as most families,” junior business management major and Tampa resident Cole Hernandez said. “A decent amount of people stayed, even though many cities had mandatory evacuations.”
Josh Duncan, a third-year Ole Miss law student, is from Panama City. For his undergraduate studies, he went to Florida State University, which is closed until Sept. 15 due to concerns of long-term power outages.
Duncan said being away from his family during the hurricane feels strange.
“Being in Oxford is a weird feeling,” he said. “It’s the first time I have not been in Florida for a major hurricane. I know that the storm has weakened a lot, so I’m not too concerned.”
Conflicting reports about the hurricane’s path caused many people in the storm’s path to question evacuation.
“My family only started to worry when the path of the storm started to turn west,” Duncan said. “Originally, my family wasn’t going to do much preparation when it was headed down the east coast of the state.”
Duncan said his family didn’t evacuate from its Panama City home.
“They normally don’t unless it is going to be a Category 3 or higher,” he said. “They just made sure to have plenty of food at our house, and we have a full-house generator that comes on automatically when the power goes out.”
Duncan said many Floridians are used to hurricanes.
“Hurricanes are just a way of life in Florida,” he said. “Growing up in the state, you are used to them and know how to prepare for them. All of the pictures and videos of Floridians out in the storm do not surprise me at all.”
Hurricane Irma is expected to travel north early this week, with Georgia and South Carolina in the path of impact. North Mississippi is in the cone of impact for Tuesday.