Drake University student weathers Hurricane Ian at Disney



Survive Hurricane Ian as a Disney Worker

The problem with Walt Disney World is that they never want to close. But with Hurricane Ian on the way, which made landfall on Wednesday, September 28 as a Category 4 storm with maximum winds of 150 mph, they had to…eventually. Everything was uncertain until the hurricane reached us. Here is my experience.

Monday, September 26

I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. I saw big thunderstorms, snowstorms, tornadoes and even a few small earthquakes. A hurricane was completely new territory for me. I admit I was nervous. At this point, Hurricane Ian was a Category 3 storm. Everyone was talking about it all the time. I asked for advice from my colleagues who had lived in Florida for a long time. Buy non-perishable food, flashlights and water – plenty of it. Be prepared in the event of a power outage.

But one thing puzzled me. Many people I asked admitted to being nervous about the storm, but said they were terrified of tornadoes. I had seen and experienced tornadoes all my life. Seeing that they were more afraid of a tornado than a hurricane probably gave me too much confidence with this hurricane… I still bought food, flashlights and water. This had to be done quickly as stores were running out quickly.

At this point, Disney was still expected to be open all week.

Tuesday, September 27

I woke up to a text from my boss asking if I was still up for Hurricane Ride-Out Crew. This is a volunteer team of cast members who would work at Disney resorts to keep guests happy, entertained and content if Disney were to close due to the hurricane. You clock in for the crew and don’t clock in until the hurricane has passed. This means you get paid to eat and sleep if it gets to that point. It’s a double hourly wage for part-time and full-time students, but for Disney College Program (CP) participants, it’s a salary and a half hour. It’s hard and potentially dangerous work, but it’s a lot of money. I was ready to be called for this. I had packed my bag of clothes and basic necessities. I still didn’t know if I would need it because Disney would wait until the last minute to shut down the Hurricane, leaving the Hurricane Ride-Out crew to also have to be ready at the last minute. And I didn’t even know if I would be chosen to be called.

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

Until that is no longer the case.

Halfway through my shift on Tuesday, Disney announced that they would be closed Wednesday and Thursday due to the hurricane. Tuesday night I knew I was not selected to be part of the Hurricane Ride-Out team and that I would ride out the hurricane in my apartment. And at that moment I knew that the hurricane was created to hit us and be destructive.

I arrived home at my apartment to find that all the workers and security guards had left and would not return until Friday. Now it was just me and the hundreds of other CPs who had to fend for themselves for the next two days – for many of them it was also their first hurricane.

Wednesday, September 28

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

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

Hurricane parties.

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

Then the wind picked up and whistled between the buildings. Lights started flashing and WiFi came in and out. The hurricane, now downgraded to an intense tropical storm, was very close.

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

Then I ran back to my apartment, dried myself off, texted all my neighborhood friends to be safe, and tried to fall asleep.

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 until 6 am watching TV. I opened the door periodically to see what was happening outside.

The wind mixed with the rain so that the rain fell at an angle of almost 45 degrees. The water overloaded the sewers and the walkways were flooded. It infiltrated towards the first floor, although I don’t know whether or not it entered and flooded the building. The wind was pushing the flooded water so hard that I had never seen water rushing with such speed and force before, except on a river.

Thursday September 29

I woke up about two hours later at 8 am. It was still raining heavily. I woke up at 11 a.m. for a Zoom meeting that I was surprised I still had the power to attend. It was still raining. I hadn’t lost any water either.

I was lucky. I had friends and colleagues who had lost power. I had friends and colleagues whose homes were flooded. Trees lay on their sides and debris was strewn everywhere.

At the end of the afternoon, it stopped raining. The weather was in the 60s, abnormal for Florida where a week before it was in the 80s. People emerged from their apartments and quickly Flamingo Crossings Village was bustling again. People talked about how the storm had affected them and about the state of the roads. They played and laughed and called their families. Those who participated in the Hurricane Ride-Out Crew returned home that evening.

I called my mom and told her how it was. I met 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 nearly 36 hours straight.

Friday September 30

I took a shift this morning from 6am to noon that was supposed to help repair hurricane damage before guests arrived. The bus left at 5am, so I got up at 4:30am. My location didn’t really have any damage, so I just went to help open my location. My original shift was to start at 3:00 p.m., but since it would have been difficult to get in and out, I asked to merge the two shifts. There were quite a few people calling due to hurricane damage and not being able to make it work, so the chef approved it. That meant I was now working 6am to 9:45pm. 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 a tropical storm – and was fine. My thoughts are with my friends and co-workers who weren’t as lucky as me and those living on the Florida coast who were hit hard by the hurricane. It was destructive. It was unpredictable, it would suddenly gain strength before it hit land, and Disney would wait to decide whether to close until the day before it arrived.

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

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