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Drake University student rides out Hurricane Ian at Disney

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Surviving Hurricane Ian as a Disney Worker

The thing about Walt Disney World is that they never want to close. But with Hurricane Ian on its way, making landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm with maximum winds of 150 mph, they had to…eventually. Everything was uncertain all the way to when the hurricane reached us. Here was my experience.

 

Monday, Sept. 26

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I have seen some bad thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornados and even a few small earthquakes. A hurricane was completely new territory for me. I’ll admit I was nervous. At this point, Hurricane Ian was a Category 3 storm. Everyone was talking about it all of the time. I asked my fellow co-workers who had lived in Florida for a long time for tips. Buy non-perishable food, flashlights and water – lots of it. Be prepared if your power goes out. 

But one thing threw me off guard. Many of the people I asked admitted being nervous about the storm but said they were terrified of tornadoes. I had seen and lived through tornadoes my entire life. Seeing that they were more scared of a tornado than a hurricane probably gave me too much confidence with this hurricane…I still bought food, flashlights and water though.  It had to be done quickly because stores were running out of supplies fast. 

At this point, Disney was still set to be open the entire week. 

 

Tuesday, Sept. 27

I woke up to a text from my leader asking if I was still on to participate in Hurricane Ride-Out Crew. This is a voluntary crew of cast members who would work at Disney Resorts to keep guests happy, entertained and contained if Disney should close due to the hurricane. You clock in for the crew and don’t clock out until the hurricane is over. Meaning you get paid to eat and sleep if it gets to that point. It is double pay per hour for part-time and full-time, but for Disney College Program participants (CPs) it is pay and half per hour. It is hard work and potentially dangerous, but it’s good money. I was ready to get called in for it. I had packed my bag of clothes and necessities. I still didn’t know if I’d need it because Disney would wait until the last minute to close for the hurricane, leaving the Hurricane Ride-Out Crew also needing to be ready at the last minute. And I didn’t even know if I would be chosen to be called in.

So at this point I didn’t know how bad the hurricane would be by the time it hit us (if it would even hit us in Orlando), I didn’t know if Disney would close and I didn’t know if I would be a part of Hurricane Ride-Out Crew. Everything about this hurricane was unknown. 

Until it wasn’t. 

Halfway through my shift on Tuesday, Disney announced that they would be closed on Wednesday and Thursday due to the hurricane. By Tuesday night, I knew I wasn’t selected to be a part of the Hurricane Ride-Out Crew and would be spending the hurricane in my apartment. And by then I knew the hurricane was set up to hit us and be destructive. 

I arrived home to my apartment to find that all the workers and security guards had left and wouldn’t return until Friday. Now it was just me and the hundreds of other CPs left to fend for ourselves for the next two days – for many of whom it was also their first hurricane. 

 

Wednesday, Sept. 28

I slept in since I wasn’t working. But I woke up to the sound of rain. Our apartments are outside, as in when you open the door you step outside, so there’s no protection from the weather. I opened the door to see it was pouring and the wind was picking up. The hurricane was supposed to hit us late that night. I did chores and anything that required electricity and/or water in case we lost power and/or water. I finished around 5 p.m. 

And what to do with my night, as I’m about to get hit by a hurricane for the first time? Stuck with hundreds of other college-aged kids after we were all borderline abandoned by Flamingo Crossings Village and Disney? 

Hurricane parties. 

Tons of parties were held that night as friends quarantined with each other. My friend group got together and watched movies. We laughed and talked and used this time as a distraction.

Then the wind picked up and whistled between the buildings. The lights began to flicker and WiFi went in and out. The hurricane, now downgraded to an intense tropical storm, was very close.

So we did the responsible thing…and made TikToks outside dancing in the rain.

Afterward I ran back to my apartment, dried off, texted all my friends in the area to be safe and tried to go to sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. The storm made me anxious and I didn’t want to sleep in case something happened. I ended up staying up until 6 a.m. watching TV. I’d open up the door periodically to see what was going on outside. 

Wind mixed with the rain so that the rain came down at almost a 45-degree angle. The water overloaded the drains and the walkways flooded. It seeped towards the first floor, though I don’t know whether or not it made its way in and flooded the building. The wind pushed the flooded water so strongly that, before this, I had never seen water rush by with such speed and force except on a river. 

 

Thursday, Sept. 29

I woke up about two hours later at 8 a.m.. It was still raining hard. I woke up again at 11 a.m. for a Zoom meeting that I was surprised I still had power to make it to. It was still raining. I hadn’t lost water either. 

I was lucky. I had friends and coworkers who had lost power. I had friends and coworkers whose houses flooded. Trees lay on their sides and debris was scattered everywhere. 

Sometime in the late afternoon it stopped raining. The weather was in the high 60s, abnormal for Florida where a week before it was in the 80s. People emerged from their apartments and quickly Flamingo Crossings Village was lively again. People talked about how the storm had affected them, and what the roads were like. They played and laughed and called their families. Those who participated in the Hurricane Ride-Out Crew came home that night. 

I called my mom and told her what it was like. I met up with my friend in another apartment and we went for a walk. I welcomed my boyfriend home from the Hurricane Ride-Out Crew where he had just worked almost 36 hours straight. 

 

Friday, Sept. 30

I picked up a shift this morning from 6 a.m. to noon that was supposed to be helping with damages from the hurricane before the guests arrived. The bus left at 5 a.m., so I was up at 4:30 a.m. My location didn’t really have any damage, so I just went to help with the opening of my location. My original shift was supposed to start at 3 p.m., but since it would’ve been a hassle to go home and come back, I asked to merge the two shifts. There were quite a few people who called out due to hurricane damage and not being able to make it to work, so the leader approved it. This meant I was now working from 6 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. A 15-hour and 45-minute shift. It was a long day and quite the way to end a long week. 

I survived my first hurricane – or I guess tropical storm – and I was okay. My heart goes out to my friends and coworkers who weren’t as lucky as me and to those living on the coast of Florida that got hit by the full force of the hurricane. It was destructive. It was unpredictable, with it suddenly gaining strength before hitting land and Disney waiting to decide to close until the day before it hit. 

And a big thank you to my co-workers who helped me stay prepared when I knew absolutely nothing about what to do. 

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