By Maureen Rice
Ryerson geography students were blown away by their course last week.
During a third-year geography class field camp assignment in San Juan, Puerto Rico last week, 21 students and two professors were caught in hurricane Georges. Locals said Georges, which was measured as level three, was the worst hurricane in 70 years.
Doors crashed at the El Cannerio Hotel where the students were staying. Heavy winds sent debris flying. One student, Larry McBridge, was slightly injured when a stick hit him on the forehead.
During the storm, the group spent more than three hours stuck in their hotel.
“Our hotel was really lucky,” said student Katherine Trytek. “We had nothing damaged. We watched [the hurricane] from inside,” she said.
“It sounds weird, but the day after it almost seemed disappointing that it wasn’t worse,” said Trytek.
“There were certainly inconveniences,” said professor Hersch Jacobs. The hotel had no electricity, and no running water — for four whole days.
Luckily, the group found salvation at the hotel next door, which had emergency power generators.
Despite the inconvenience, Jacobs felt the students gained valuable experience on their trip. “It was a legitimate geography course. IT was no longer merely an academic exercise,” Jacobs said. “It was real world, and people were genuinely interested in it.”
Some of the trip’s itinerary — tours through a cave site, the world’s largest radio satellite, and EI Yunque, the U.S. Forest Service’s only tropical rainforest — had to be cancelled. But the students dealt with the change of plans reasonable well.
“In the rainforest you could just see the destruction,” said McBride.
“It was a disappointing sight,” said Tytrek. “You wouldn’t believe it was once lush vegetation.”
All 21 students and both professors arrive safely back on Sept. 25 as scheduled.
And while the experience may be over, the course is not. The students’ assignments, which will outline their field camp hurricane experience, are due in two weeks.