Hurricane Sandy delays return of UCR Model UN team

Courtesy of Adi Namatasere

From Oct. 29 to Nov. 1, delegates from the UCR Model United Nations (UN) team were stranded in Washington, D.C. due to Hurricane Sandy–a treacherous extratropical storm which plowed through the East Coast in late October.

Nearly 500 student delegates from all over the world attended the Model United Nations conference, which took place from Oct. 26-29 in Washington, D.C.. There, the UCR Model UN team took home the “Outstanding Delegation Award,” with the highest honors. UCR delegates represented China as members of the human rights council, and faced the difficult task of defending stances such as the one-child policy.

Connected to the main Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters, the team resided in the Hotel Capital Inn, which was reserved for student delegates for the duration of the conference. With return tickets in hand, the UCR delegates scheduled flights for Oct. 28 and 29, through three different airports: the Dulles International, Ronald Reagan United and Baltimore-Washington International.

At the same time, Mayor Vincent Grey had made preparations for Hurricane Sandy by declaring a state of emergency and government shutdown for Washington D.C. on Oct. 29–the day in which many delegates were expecting to return home.

UCR Model UN Vice President of Research Mekbeb Hagos said that flight provisions for the conference dated back to early July. “So we booked it four or five months in advance only for it to be delayed,” joked Hagos. “We were flying out of Baltimore because it was like a hundred dollars cheaper, since it was election season [but] It’s like 45 minutes north and the further north you go, the worse the storm got.”

The team rescheduled their flight for the Tuesday, Oct.30 and made nearby hotel accommodations at the Skylight for a one-day stay. Early Monday morning, delegates were informed through email notification that their flight would be once again delayed until Thursday.

“The condensation on the window inside the building filled up and we had to put towels [beneath the door] because [it] was dripping and by morning, the towels were soaked…because the pressure dropped so low from the hurricane,” stated fourth-year delegate Diego Hernandez.

Unable to afford hotel reservations for two additional days, the team desperately contacted the UCDC program, which generously provided free housing and food for the stranded students.

“We got lucky because [the] staff was staying there and they actually stayed there longer than anticipated [due to the hurricane]…luckily, the subway system opened up right when we got there because if it didn’t then we would’ve had to slept in the lobby,” said Hagos.

The delegates expressed immense gratitude to Dean of CHASS Stephen Cullenberg, Vice Chancellor of Academic Student Affairs Jim Sandoval and the UCDC program for providing two-day accommodations.

“It was a good experience for me to be in a hurricane..I mean you hear about it but never know about [the actual effects]…so it was cool having that connection because [if it] happens again, another hurricane hitting the east coast…we’ll have that connection,” stated Hernandez.

Perceived as an unnatural occurrence, Hurricane Sandy led to massive flight congestion and had echoing effects throughout the United States.

“In my 60 years of weather-watching, I have never seen something as rare, in which Hurricane Sandy merged with the nor’easter [storm],” stated UCR fire geologist professor Richard Minnich in an interview with the Highlander.

Severely eroding the shores of eastern states such as New Jersey, the full force of Hurricane Sandy was anticipated by meteorologists who provided a five to six day warning. For many areas, storm surges caused flood damage to numerous homes, which resided atop of the surrounding sand barriers.

“Perceived as big sand bars with linear islands parallel to the coast, the barrier islands are created and destroyed by hurricanes,” stated Minnich, who strongly believed that those hazardous areas should be preserved as state-owned areas, to prevent human endangerment.

At the onset of the storm, FEMA immediately took action, assessing damages estimated to cost $60 billion, according to Time magazine. Because the FEMA headquarters were connected to the Capitol Holiday Inn hotel, UCR delegates watched the movements of the emergency recruitment team. Taking place a week before the election, President Barack Obama appeared at the central FEMA headquarters on the same day.    

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