Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Students at UT and USF St. Pete move in as bay area braces for possible hurricane, RNC

On both sides of the bay, cars squeezed along cramped curbs filled with duffel bags and cork boards, plastic drawers and Target bags. College students and their parents braced for crowded elevators and goodbyes.

The scene Saturday at the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida St. Petersburg looked no different from move-in weekends across the country.

Except for that tropical storm a few days away, gaining intensity and moving closer.

And that flood of people arriving this weekend, some to attend the Republican National Convention and some to wreak havoc around it.

For the families of the 2,200 students returning to UT this weekend, it was nearly impossible to find a hotel room across the river in downtown Tampa.

New Hampshire mom Debbie Mutz snagged a coveted room at the downtown Hyatt when she booked last September. But she had to check out Friday. "I couldn't get a room Saturday night if my life depended on it."

And she was lucky.

The closest room Massachusetts mom Julia Ghorbi could find was in Oldsmar.

At least one family opted for a Disney stay.

Martha Ash and her husband managed to find a room miles away on Waters Avenue. But they shared another concern with out-of-town families: getting home. With soon-to-be Hurricane Isaac on its way, the Ashes paid $150 in ticket fees for earlier flights.

Cheryl and Paul Abbott recognized they may have to resort to a plan other than their Monday flight: the long drive home to Pennsylvania.

At USF St. Petersburg, where nearly 650 students were moving into their dorm rooms, most families had the luxury of living a car ride away. As part of their check-in, students had to provide the school with a personal evacuation plan. With many coming from either South or Central Florida, the students told school officials their own evacuation plan was, simply, to return home.

Burke Neely of Vero Beach said her 18-year-old daughter, Jordan, is a veteran of hurricanes.

"I'm more concerned about the crazy people who will be here for the RNC," she said.

At USFSP, 200 of the students, mostly freshmen, were moving into the new University Student Center, a pristine $21 million dorm that opened its doors on Saturday. USF officials have warned incoming students that visitors here for the convention may ask to stay in their dorms. And UT officials have told students to wear identification cards and a green lanyard to distinguish them from outsiders.

Parents have taken notice of other security precautions. Mom Jodi Gould was taken aback by the sight of armed, khaki-clad police gearing up for action in Tampa. "It was freaky," she said. "Something you don't see every day in Nashua, New Hampshire."

Jack Whitaker, 19, said his dad has already told him what to do during the convention:

"Stay away."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.

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