Former Oxonian Rebecca Morgan finds herself back in Oxford after second hurricane evacuation since 2005
Published 8:00 am Monday, October 9, 2017
Rebecca Morgan left Oxford to pursue a life dedicated to working with the blind in honor of her father, David Morgan, a blind piano tuner who owned David Morgan’s Piano Tuning on the Square for several years. For the second time in 12 years, she’s been blown back to Oxford because of hurricanes.
For the second time in 12 years, she’s been blown back to Oxford because of hurricanes. “Maybe I’m just supposed to stay in Oxford,” she told the EAGLE last week. “I’ve spent my life trying to honor my father in other places. Maybe something is telling me I should be doing my work where he went blind.”
Morgan and her twin sons, Miles and Sage, were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina headed toward the Gulf Coast. They evacuated to Oxford.
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“I told my sons to pack for a couple of days,” Morgan said. Morgan stayed at the evacuation shelter set up at First Presbyterian Church where she received help from Interfaith Compassion Ministry and other organizations. Since she was attending classes in New Orleans toward her master’s degree, she reached out to Sparky Reardon, the then-Dean of Student Affairs at the University of Mississippi where she placed in family-housing and earned her Masters in Education degree while also working for the ELS Department on campus.
A couple of days in Oxford turned into several years. Around 2014, she decided it was time to go back to doing what she loved most.
“I felt like I really wanted to get back to my work with the blind,” Morgan said. With her sons now adults, Morgan started to travel around the Midwest and the South working for nonprofits when an opportunity came up in 2015 to work for the school district on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
“I let my guard down and chose to live in another hurricane-prone area,” she said. Her apartment was on top of a mountain which offers protection from flooding, but not high winds, which is what Hurricane Irma brought to the islands on Aug. 25. Saint Thomas island suffered widespread structural damage, including its police station and airport.
“Evacuating from an island is much harder than from somewhere on the mainland,” she said.
Morgan remained on the island during the storm but went to stay she friends close by.
“Irma was a category 3 hurricane and was headed toward us,” Morgan said. “Then she turned into a category 5 within 15 hours. There was little time to get away.”
After the storm passed, Morgan tried to stay on St. Thomas, having hope things would return to normal.
“There were moments of joy, like being able to get some gas for my car or my lamp,” she said. “There was a lot of help on the ground,” she said. “But then the rains started.”
A few days after Irma, more rain fell in St. Thomas making roads that survived Irma, crumble away. Roofs that hadn’t yet been prepared left homes open to the rain and flooding. It was time to leave St. Thomas.
She made an S.O.S call to her Oxford friends, Yerger Andre and Laura Johnson, who eventually managed to get Morgan back to Oxford.
She rode a small 10-person plane with Cape Air where she took another flight to St. Croix, where she then to flew to Puerto Rico and then to finally a flight to Memphis on Sept. 18.
“They offered me a hotel in Peurto Rico until my Memphis flight, but I told them I’d rather sleep at the airport,” Morgan said. “Hurricane Maria was on its way and I did not want to miss my flight.”
Morgan’s son Miles is a senior at Ole Miss. He said he had little contact with his mother after Hurricane Irma made landfall.
“I’d get a random text or an emoji from her once in awhile to let me know she was OK,” he said.
Sitting in the dark dealing with mosquitoes, Morgan said not having cell service made surviving post-Irma more difficult.
“I just wanted to hear a loved one’s voice,” she said.
Morgan said organizations, like My Brother’s Workshop, which has been feeding about 1,000 people a day since Irma, made the few days she remained on St. Thomas island bearable and saw first-hand what donation made to these organizations provide on a daily basis.
Morgan said she’s had to rely on the generosity of her friends and once again, Lena Wiley and Interfaith Compassion Ministry, since landing in Oxford. She’s been given a place to stay temporarily by Cynthia Johnson, Laura’s mother.
“I’m so filled with gratitude for their ongoing support,” she said.
Morgan left her car behind in St. Thomas as well as most of her belongings. When and if she will be able to return is still up in the air and she says she’s taking things one day at a time; however, her thoughts often are with the friends she also left behind.
“People ask, ‘Are you OK?’” Morgan said. “No one who went through any of these storms is OK. Some are better off than others. It’s dire here. It’s dire in Puerto Rico. What Irma didn’t tear to shreds, Maria flooded it.”
Morgan said she still has nightmares almost every night since Hurricane Irma hit, but she’s trying to remain positive about her future and is looking forward to seeing her son, Sage, a Sr. Airman in the U.S. Air Force who has been stationed in Guam for three years.