Fearing Irma, half of his class hopped the first plane out of Puerto Rico. A Minnesota native chose to stay.
BAYAMON, Puerto Rico—When Moorhead native Matt Stein decided to pack up and move to Puerto Rico five weeks ago, he never imagined being in a scenario like the one he's bracing for now.
Images and videos of bare store shelves and boarded-up windows after Hurricane Harvey in Texas are now hitting a little closer to home for Stein and his two roommates as they begin to prepare for the worst with Hurricane Irma.
"It didn't even cross my mind when I decided to come here," Stein said. "When you hear about hurricanes on the news, you always hear about them hitting the U.S."
"When they hit the smaller islands down here, even though Puerto Rico is a part of the U.S., you don't really pay attention to it as much, so I didn't even think about it."
Stein uprooted from Moorhead to Bayamón to attend Interamerican University, one of only 20 fully accredited optometry schools in the United States and the only school of its kind in Puerto Rico. Bayamón is about 20 minutes southwest of Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan.
San Juan is anticipated to bear the brunt of Irma, as it lies on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The eye of the hurricane is expected to just miss San Juan, but the residents of Puerto Rico, including Stein, began preparing for Irma's projected arrival several days ago.
"We had a tropical storm here two weeks ago, so our professors were telling us that we might lose power then," Stein said. "I think they started talking about Irma about a week ago, or even less than that."
A Sam's Club is conveniently located across the street from Stein's apartment. Stein said when he and his fellow classmates were notified of Irma's potential impact, they immediately began to stock up on water and nonperishable food items.
"We have a bunch of water and canned food," he said. "We're just stocking up on as much stuff as we possibly can."
Stein said that along with drinkable water and food, they filled five to six buckets full of water in case the water is turned off so they could flush their toilets. Stein added that his apartment is made of solid brick and is located halfway up a mountain, so with the added elevation he doesn't believe his apartment will be threatened by flooding.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is Puerto Rico's unstable infrastructure," he said. "If the power were to go out, certain parts of the country could be without power for four to six months."
Classes at Interamerican University were immediately canceled indefinitely following the announcement made by President Trump Tuesday, Sept. 5, declaring Puerto Rico under a state of emergency. Stein said the school has its own generator and a full water supply in case they run out.
Stein's parents, who live in Moorhead, urged Matt to get a plane ticket home, which, according to Stein, half of his entire class chose to do. But despite his parents' plea, Stein and his roommates chose to stick it out in Puerto Rico.
"Me and my roommate talked about it and said, 'How many times are we going to see a category five hurricane?'"