Universities in Fla. brace for storm

W. Florida closing today

other schools watch path, tell students to prepare

September 14, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

TALLAHASSEE - At least one Florida university announced that it will close today, and others have heightened their alert status as deadly Hurricane Ivan pushes closer to U.S. shores.

The University of West Florida in Pensacola, a 9,900-student state school on the Panhandle, decided at noon yesterday to shut its doors after reports showed the season's most fearsome storm bearing down on or near the area within two days.

Students who cannot leave the school have been offered shelter in two campus buildings.

"We're doing everything we can to ensure the safety of our students and staff," said Janice Holmes, a spokeswoman for the University of West Florida.

Alerts and warnings

Meanwhile, about 180 miles east of the West Florida school, two larger universities - Florida State University and Florida A&M University in the state capital - began issuing alerts to students to prepare for the potential dangers of Ivan.

Officials warned the students to stock up on flashlights, portable radios, nonperishable food, water and extra batteries.

The announcements came as colleges and universities in the hurricane's projected path were flooded with calls yesterday from concerned parents seeking advice about how to ensure their children's safety during what could be the third major storm to hit Florida in recent weeks.

Ivan is the ninth named storm of this year's hurricane season. It has fluctuated in recent days between Category 4 and Category 5 - the highest level.

"Parents are getting very antsy," said Mary B. Coburn, vice president for student affairs at FSU, one of the state's largest schools with more than 37,000 students and 6,000 employees. "They are asking whether they should have their sons and daughters come home.

"I think the history of this being the third one has sensitized people," Coburn said. "But there's no place better to be than on campus."

FSU officials said they plan to hold classes and events as scheduled this week, including Saturday's home football game between the Seminoles and the University of Alabama Blazers.

Coburn said the university is continuing to track the hurricane and will make changes to the university schedule if the National Weather Service indicates that Ivan will have a more direct impact on Tallahassee.

Capital well inland

There are no evacuation plans for Tallahassee, a city of 250,000. The state capital sits dozens of miles from the coast and is a destination for those fleeing from more flood-prone areas.

FSU student Jon Jekel, an 18-year-old freshman studying English, psychology and film, said he's not too worried about the latest hurricane. Ducking into a parking garage during some drizzling rain yesterday, Jekel said he endured the season's first hurricane, Charley, while at home in Fort Myers on Florida's west coast.

And he said he was hit by winds and rain from the second storm, Frances. So he said he believes he'll be OK.

"I'm really not that concerned about Ivan," Jekel said.

Stacy Cleveland, a 19-year-old sophomore criminology major, said students have been told to stock up on canned goods and other nonperishables, but she worries about what will happen if the electricity goes out.

"How are we supposed to eat soup if the power's off?" she said. But the actual threat of the hurricane was causing her little concern. "It's mostly the parents who are worried," she said.

But some other students aren't as comfortable.

"Everyone I've talked to said they're considering leaving," said Cleveland's roommate, 19-year-old Erin Vespucci. "Some people say they're going to go north [in Florida], which I think is stupid because the hurricane will be following them."

As for Vespucci, she longed for her native New Jersey:

"I want to go home."

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