By Thursday, 51 students and 24 faculty and staff members from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, were housed on campus as terrible weather continued 5 1/2 hours back down the road.
“Believe it or not, it’s not that bad being away from our home campus,” Coastal Carolina student Joshua Garrett said. “I came here knowing no one, and now I have a big group of friends that I’ve been doing everything with since coming here.”
Before each academic year, universities around the country are contacted to know if there is any spare housing in case of natural disasters or anything else that would cause a mass evacuation.
“It was really nerve-racking coming up here. I have never been in a hurricane before, so I didn't know what was going on,” Coastal Carolina student Emilee Rodriguez said.
For some — like fellow Coastal Carolina student Joshua Mishoe — it’s not the first time going through a hurricane evacuation. He’d already been through three, for hurricanes Irma, Florence and Matthew, and had evacuated to Clemson University each time. He’s also from the coastal area, calling nearby Myrtle Beach his hometown.
“It’s a smaller school than Clemson, but I like smaller schools,” Mishoe said.
ETSU has provided the evacuees from Coastal Carolina a room, access to WiFi and dining hall access among other amenities to make them feel at home.
“This past weekend, the director of housing received a call from Coastal Carolina asking if ETSU could take in students and faculty since the hurricane was on its way,” ETSU spokesman Joe Smith said. “We verified that we had the space available to accommodate the students and faculty necessary and they were on their way. It has been great having visitors on campus and ETSU is doing everything possible to make sure that students and faculty from Coastal Carolina continue to embark on their academic endeavors normally.”
Coastal Carolina student Vanessa Phrakonkham said the drive through the night was definitely worth it.
“To have a bed and food to eat is much better than being in South Carolina right now,” she said.
Students were already into their third week of classes in Conway when Dorian began to get close.
“We were told our options were either evacuate or sleep on the gym floor,” Garrett said.
Coastal Carolina professors have been accommodating to the students working in mostly online classes.
“We have assignments, but our teachers gave us pushed-back due dates in case we didn't have an internet or electricity,” Phrakonkham said.
“I’m from about three hours south of Myrtle Beach and I’ve never actually evacuated for a hurricane. We usually just board up the house and stay there,” Coastal Carolina student Felicity Steward said.
For Garrett, this isn’t his first rodeo either when it comes to hurricanes. He’s from near the Jersey Shore and his area was rocked by Hurricane Sandy in 2017.
“As everyone knows, Sandy did a number on New Jersey. This is round two,” he said.
Even though they're more than 300 miles away from the coast, ETSU has been like a home-away-from-home.
“They’ve been so nice and welcoming to us here,” Mishoe said.
And there might be other perks: “The food is better here, I would say,” Garrett said.
Steward also saw some plusses.
“The campus is really hilly with some steep climbs, but the sunsets here are beautiful,” Steward said. “You all know how to make some sweet tea, too.”
“I love the mountains. Where I’m from in Ohio, we get to see mountains and I missed it when I was at Coastal Carolina,” Rodriguez said.
For Phrakonkham, what she didn’t see stood out.
“It’s nice to be in a different area other than the beach and not seeing people carrying around their surfboards. It’s a lot different and you almost forget that there’s a hurricane going on,” she said.
It’s uncertain when the students will be able to return to Coastal Carolina.