OU alum experiences hurricane Irma firsthand


courtesy of Joanna Kandalaft

Trevor Tyle, Staff Reporter

For many people across the country, Hurricane Irma has been one of the most devastating topics of discussion in recent memory. The category four storm, which actually became a category five around the Caribbean Islands, has provoked fear in the minds of concerned family and friends. For some, it is far more real than just another news story.

Joanna Kandalaft graduated from Oakland University in December 2016 with plans to further her education at Saba University School of Medicine (located on Saba Island, one of the islands affected by the storm) the following year. However, little did she know that just days prior to beginning her studies, Hurricane Irma would pass through Saba and many of the other surrounding islands, leaving inhabitants to pick up the pieces.

“I was absolutely terrified when I woke up to the winds of the storm at 5:30 a.m.,” Kandalaft said. “The winds were so strong that the door handle was shaking and water was seeping through it.”

Despite her firsthand encounter with the storm, she was more focused on the safety of her friends and parents in St. Martin, an island less than 31 miles from Saba.

“There was a lot of difficulty dealing with this hurricane, like not having power, being locked inside the dorms and relying on candle light and flashlights,” Kandalaft said. “But the most difficult part was not having service to reach my parents, who were stranded on St. Martin.”

It was not until three days later that she had learned of her parents’ evacuation to Puerto Rico, following the destruction of the local airport. However, she remained positive, acknowledging that she was “fortunate” for being in what she says is “one of the safest spots on the island.”

In fact, once the storm had ended, Kandalaft and her friends were among the first to help with relief efforts.

“We actually gathered a huge group of students to help out with the clean up to make it more efficient,” she said.

Other students have taken similar actions. Jack Grace, a sophomore at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, said that he and his friends are volunteering in Immokalee, a nearby city that he described as “poor” and likely to suffer “a lot of damages.” He encouraged students at OU and around the nation to donate to the relief efforts of such cities if possible.

Although Saba Island seems so far away, Kandalaft believes that the Oakland community can help with the relief efforts by “be[ing] aware of what’s happening around the world.”

She cited the recent natural disasters as “real evidence for climate change,” adding that, “the harsh consequences and effects are very obvious, and we need to all come together and help reduce further damage.”

She concluded with one final piece of advice for OU students that want to help areas affected.

“Just because Oakland University is away from [the] hurricanes doesn’t mean other natural disasters can’t happen,” Kandalaft said. “We can’t stop Mother Nature, but I think we could keep it under control.”