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Sandy strands student

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Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast last week, and one St. Olaf student was in the eye of the storm.

Duy Ha ’14 flew to New York City on Friday, Oct. 26 for a networking event and was supposed to fly back to St. Olaf three days later. It was six days and seven plane tickets before Ha returned to classes on the Hill.

“I was really optimistic that nothing was going to happen,” Ha said of the trip. “It was really scary, but I was with my friends. That’s why I wasn’t as scared as I should have been.”

Ha, an international student from Vietnam, was staying with friends attending New York University NYU when the storm hit.

Lower Manhattan lost power, running water and any sort of cell phone signal, making it difficult for Ha to communicate both with the airlines and deans and professors back at St. Olaf.

After spending all of Monday, Oct. 29 indoors in the “Buntrock of NYU,” Ha moved to the less-affected Columbia University campus to stay with other friends as he attempted to secure travel arrangements.

Ha’s chief concern was getting back to St. Olaf in a timely manner. “I didn’t want to miss any more class,” he said. He even tried to send several assignments via email, but “[my professors] said ‘just be safe.'”

Because La Guardia airport was, as Ha put it, “like a lake” and JFK had limited service, Ha booked flight after flight only to have them cancelled. So, on Halloween, he planned to take a bus from China Town to Boston and fly home that evening.

Others had the same idea. The bus stop was swamped with people. Ha was physically pushed off of an overcrowded bus, and by the time he boarded the 4 p.m. shuttle, he knew he would miss his evening flight.

Upon arriving in Boston, Ha stopped at yet another university, Harvard, to spend the night with friends. “It was like a university tour for me,” he said.

Finally, on Thursday morning, Ha was on an airplane headed for Minnesota.

He was back on campus in time for his 2:15 p.m. class.

If he could do it over again, Ha said he would be less optimistic and book a return flight Sunday or consider not traveling to New York in the first place.

Still, for all of the danger and stress, Ha did take away something positive from Sandy.

“I have learned not to underestimate and to be flexible with conditions after a natural disaster. I am now also more aware of how we, human beings, are having effects on the environment,” Ha said.

koester@stolaf.edu