Student residents settle in at off-campus hurricane shelter

Update, 2:05 p.m., Sept. 9, 2017: Students have begun settling into their temporary home at the university shelter in Southwest Dade. A Miami Hurricane reporter staying in the shelter described the mood as calm, writing in a text message, “We have board games, did a workout and had a Catholic mass this morning.” UM priest Father Phillip Tran led the mass.

Students are still being served catered meals, the building has power and there is a generator. Men and women are on separate floors. There are set times for meals and for lights-out, said Mike Piacentino, a marketing specialist for Housing and Residential Life who is staying with students.

Update, 12:56 p.m., Sept. 8, 2017: The university will be transporting about 60 students and 14 Housing and Residential Life (HRL) staff members to an off-campus shelter this afternoon. The number of students going to the shelter has dropped by about half in a day, and dropped by much more than that from the 4,000 students who live on campus.

The university has made special provisions for students to be sheltered separately, in Southwest Dade, but did not want to disclose the exact location to ensure that students would be secure. Non-resident students, faculty and staff who may need help can still call the university’s hotline at 1-800-227-0354 and they will be guided from there.

Students planning on evacuating to the shelter had meetings Friday morning in Mahoney-Pearson residential hall and Eaton residential hall. A large portion of the group is made up of international students, many from Asia.

Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely reassured students who looked weary and worried of the plan for Friday afternoon. About 20 students in the Mahoney-Pearson meeting slumped over mountains of bedding and backpacks filled to capacity with valuables and food.

“It will not be Comfort City, but we’ll do our best,” Whitely told the group.  

Housing and Residential Life will supply water, food, snacks, games and movies for students. The 14 staffers will work shifts to make sure everyone is monitored 24/7. The structure is “built like a bunker” and allows no cell signal, so the staff is working to make wi-fi available.

Mike Piacentino, a marketing specialist for HRL, will be staying with the students. He said the university has had the shelter in place for two years in case of an emergency, but this is the first time it is “hitting play” on those plans.

“We’ve never done this specifically before … but our team is used to large-scale,” Piacentino said.

This is the first time in the university’s history that campus has been evacuated.

Along with the 14 HRL staff members, the university is sending Dr. Joseph Reinhardt, psychologist Ben Stocking and Father Phillip Tran, the university’s new full-time Catholic priest.

Stocking joined the university counseling center two years ago. He volunteered to be on-call at the shelter, and it’s the first major hurricane he will experience. Stocking said disasters can bring up many confusing feelings for students, so he will be around to offer advice and counseling during what is many students’ first time in a hurricane.

The Counseling Center after-hours hotline will also be available to anyone who needs help before, during or after the storm. To reach the hotline, dial 305-284-5511.

Tommy Fletcher contributed to reporting. 

University administrators made the call at 8:15 Thursday morning to move remaining students to an off-campus Red Cross shelter in the Southwest Dade area by tomorrow evening. This is the first-ever time the university will be evacuated for a hurricane.

As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, there are 137 students still on campus, but Whitely says with the likelihood of canceled flights, administration anticipates that number to increase.

The shelter is approximately 5 miles from the Coral Gables campus and will have water and Meals Ready to Eat for students, but most will be told to bring their own food and hurricane supplies, as well as bedding and hygiene products. Students will be transported to the shelter by UM shuttle buses, and should bring their cane cards.

Fourteen staff members, one physician and one psychologist will stay with students at the shelter, Whitely said. UM President Julio Frenk and Whitely will monitor the storm from the Emergency Operations Center in the Flipse building on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.

Campus residents will get more information at floor meetings tonight.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.