East Carolina students step up in the wake of Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence made landfall south of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Sept. 14. Classified at its peak as a Category 4 hurricane, the storm’s winds reached speeds of 130 mph. It caused 53 casualties and at least $12.7 billion worth of damage from flooding to the area in its path, according to an Oct. 24, 2018, Engineering News-Record article. The hurricane might be over, but flooding remains. In some areas, it may take years to rebuild from the damage.

Volunteers provided relief efforts in the region. East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina, was in the storm’s path. Dental students from ECU were among the volunteers who helped in the wake of the storm.

Kennedi Henry, a D2 at the school, was one of the first students to jump into service when the hurricane hit. She said the dean sent out an email when the storm arrived urging students to get involved. Henry, who serves as her class president, said she and the other class officers made it their priority to organize projects and get as many students involved as they could. Students were invited to assist in a variety of ways, including a food drive and a drive for household and hygiene supplies. The Pediatric Dental Club even sponsored a crayon and coloring book drive for kids.

Henry contacted the American Red Cross to help with the many shelters that formed to house people who had to leave their homes due to flooding. Students from ECU volunteered to help at the Landmark Baptist Church shelter and delivered water to New Bern and Elizabethtown city shelters. According to Henry, the amount of student involvement and support, both financial and physical, was overwhelming. “In the school of dental medicine, we place an emphasis on service and giving back to the community. It does feel nice that we were able to help out in some way,” she says.

First-year student Scarlett Walston was particularly moved by the destruction she saw. “Some people would show up with a box of personal belongings, and that is all they would have from a lifetime of building a home. It was pretty devastating,” she says. “Unfortunately, many of the people who were the least able to deal with the damage were the [ones who] felt most of it.”

To do her part, Walston started a food drive. She previously worked with a local food bank through her church and called them to set up a drive for food, hygiene items and household goods. Two large moving boxes placed at the school filled within four days. “You should see my trunk right now,” she laughs. “It’s absolutely full.” The students delivered the supplies on Oct. 26.

Rudy Oxendine, a D2 at ECU, offered his unique talents in the time of the tragedy. Rudy is a reserve officer with the Greenville Police and served as a police officer and sergeant for 14 years prior to attending dental school. When the storm hit, he got a call to visit New Bern, a nearby town that was badly hit by the storm.

“If you have never seen anything like it, you wouldn’t have understood how bad it was,” Oxendine says. New Bern is closer to the coast than Greenville and experienced major flooding. “There were boats in the middle of the street. “Some of the people in the shelters had no power and were really sick.”

The water turned the roads into waterways, causing the officers difficulty in reaching the town. They created specific teams for recoveries (search and rescue missions), provision of security at the shelter and patrols in the city to answer standard emergency calls. Oxendine was on patrol in the flooded streets. Having lived in the area for many years, he felt great concern for the community. “This is an area that never floods. Some of these people, living here for 30 to 40 years, don’t have flood insurance,” he says. “For them, it’s going to take years to recover.”

Despite the damage caused, Henry, Walston and Oxendine were amazed by the support from the community in the area and at ECU in particular. Oxendine says, “You go somewhere new, to a new school, and you don’t know what to expect. There’s some amazing, awesome people at this school.”

While the storm is over, the residents of Greenville and surrounding communities are still dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. Luckily, the students of ECU are committed to providing care to their patients in any way they can. ASDA commends its members and fellow dental students on their efforts.

If you’d like to donate, visit the American Red Cross website.

~Isabel Pennings, Creighton ’20, ASDA Contributing Editor

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About Isabel Pennings

Isabel Pennings, Creighton '20, is an ASDA contributing editor.

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