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UNC students abroad in Hong Kong hunker down for Typhoon Mangkhut

Courtesy of Noah Sellers.

As Hurricane Florence stalled on the North Carolina coast, UNC students studying abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong banded together and braced for a tropical disaster of their own: Typhoon Mangkhut. 

In Hong Kong and Macau, The New York Times reported 100-mile-per-hour wind gusts and 11-foot surges of seawater that rivaled Hurricane Florence’s impact. 

Typhoon Mangkhut made its presence known most prominently in the Philippines, where the estimated death count is at least 59. In Hong Kong, where five UNC students are studying abroad, the storm arrived midday Sunday and left around 24 hours later, leaving behind a path of destruction that shut down Hong Kong Airport and caused road blockages and fallen debris throughout the city.

Courtesy of Noah Sellers.

Noah Sellers, a UNC senior studying at CUHK, said around 600 international students attend his host university, and the students came together during the storm as they sought shelter in their dorm. CUHK officials told students to stock up on butter and food, and to stay inside and away from windows. Across the globe in North Carolina, UNC students heeded similar advice as they faced a different tropical storm. 

“Since we lived in the international dorm, all of the international students banded together and were pretty much landlocked since you can't go outside because the winds are so violent,” Sellers said.

During times of emergencies abroad, UNC works as a command center to coordinate efforts and check in on the safety of each student abroad and also works with host universities and provider programs to provide more resources for students, said Jing Liu, the Asia-Pacific and U.S. program director for the UNC Study Abroad Office. Liu said all five UNC students studying abroad in the impacted area are marked safe.

“We've heard reports from both universities that Hong Kong was largely spared, that there's probably some debris, maybe some flooding, probably actually quite similar to the UNC campus here with Florence,” Liu said.

Coming from Isle of Palms, S.C., junior Carly Edwards is no stranger to tropical storms and considered evacuating the area as her parents considered evacuating Charleston because of Hurricane Florence. Instead, Edwards left her Hong Kong apartment, comprised mostly of windows, to seek refuge in a friend’s studio bedroom with five others. 

“I dealt with hurricanes on a regular basis, so I guess I could say I wasn't as freaked out as some of my friends who are from like Canada or Croatia and hadn't ever really experienced something like this before,” Edwards said.

Edwards, fellow UNC junior Colton Sanders and the four other students stayed in the studio bedroom for 24 hours. Sanders said being locked in the room felt like one big dream.

“We just locked ourselves in our friend's apartment, which was really bizarre and almost didn't feel real,” Sanders said.

Edwards said the group bonded while watching "Modern Family," eating and doing face masks. Outside, the storm raged on. As many as 391 people in Hong Kong sought medical help, according to CNN.

“It was very, very tight, but there weren't really any windows, and honestly it's kind of fun to have a sleepover-esque experience for 24 hours,” Edwards said.

While Typhoon Mangkhut made for a memorable beginning of the students’ study abroad experience in Hong Kong and at least one day of school cancelled, Liu is grateful that students were able to track the route of the typhoon and its impact in order to stay safe.

“In hindsight, I want to say we were very lucky because we could, sort of like Florence, track its course,” Liu said. “So we knew that students may potentially be impacted before they were even feeling the effects of the typhoon whereas other 'natural disasters' are totally unpredictable. I think in this case, risk management was more proactive instead of reactive.”

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