UNC-W, Elizabeth City State issue voluntary evacuations for students

As Hurricane Irene advances toward North Carolina’s coast, university officials — fearing dangerous levels of rain and wind — are urging students to evacuate inland.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the whole N.C. coast, according to the National Hurricane Center, forcing both Elizabeth City State University and UNC-Wilmington to cancel their Friday afternoon and Saturday classes.

Both schools’ administrators are strongly encouraging students to evacuate.

The hurricane is expected to hit the coast Saturday afternoon as a Category 3, with winds up to 115 mph, said Barry Baxter, a meteorologist at the center.

According to an email sent to ECSU students and employees Thursday afternoon, residence halls will close at noon on Friday. Students that can’t relocate to an off-campus location must stay in the university’s gym.

About 400 to 500 people will stay in the gym, and the university will provide food and water, said ECSU Student Body President DeVon McNair.

“I’ll be in the gym tomorrow,” he said.

McNair, who is from Kinston, North Carolina, said he would rather stay with his fellow student body than evacuate.

“A lot of people don’t know that ECSU is underneath sea level, so that is the way of keeping everybody safe,” McNair said about students taking refuge in the gym.

The storm surge is expected to be five to 10 feet above ground level, Baxter said.

According to UNC-W’s emergency information website, the hurricane is projected to make landfall near Emerald Isle, which is about 90 miles north of Wilmington.

More than eight inches of rain are expected to fall Friday and Saturday, according to an alert posted on the website.

Kevin Madsen, emergency management coordinator at UNC-W, said the university has a hurricane operations plan that includes several checklists each department must fill out when a hurricane is projected to hit the area within a day and a half.

The university has issued a voluntary evacuation beginning Friday at noon. The last time an evacuation was issued at UNC-W was in 2003, when hurricane Isabel hit the area directly, said Stan Harts, director of environmental health and safety at the university.

Betty Cona, a junior at UNC-W, drove home to Charlotte Thursday night to escape the hurricane.

But Cona said some of her friends are planning to wait out the inclement weather.

Miranda Smitherman, a UNC-W senior, said she’s planning to stay in her off-campus house, despite her parents’ urging her to come home.

“They’re begging me to … I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet.”Contact the State & National Editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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