WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Hurricane Florence caused $140 million in damages to the campus of UNCW.
Dobo Hall, home to the biology and chemistry departments, suffered significant damage.
“In the fall of 2018, there were 3,293 students who had classes in that building,” said Ann Pabst, Professor of Biology and Marine Biology. “It had really cutting-edge research labs.”
Now Pabst, her colleagues and students are spread across campus while renovation work to Dobo Hall continues.
“We were absorbed by our colleagues to be able to do the work, sometimes in small and somewhat cramped spaces that we are sharing,” said Pabst. “We’ve got trailers that are acting as labs and they’re actually quite amazing, mobile teaching labs and teaching spaces.”
But Dobo Hall is more than just an educational building. For Pabst, who joined UNCW in 1996, it was home.
“We had our research lab in that building since 1996 so for us it’s 22 years of living in that building,” said Pabst. “When you walk in the door everyday and you can see your students, you can see how they’re doing, you can quickly fix a problem if there is one. When you’re not physically in the same place. That’s tough. I think that’s the hardest part."
Dobo Hall was also full of students’ projects, tissue and other samples were all destroyed when the roof was breached and rain poured in.
UNCW graduate student Peyton Thomas was supposed to go out and get samples for her project on invasive sea squirts the week Florence hit. She also had a field experiment on oysters running.
Thomas had evacuated to Georgia, waiting to find out what was happening on campus.
“My advisor messaged all of the students in my lab that we had a lot of water damage and they were and they were trying to save a lot of equipment," she said.
Then Thomas got word all the freezers went down and the samples were lost.
“I was extremely devastated and honestly didn’t know what I was going to do in terms of my project because I knew basically if our freezers went down then all my stuff is done,” said Thomas.
Thomas would have to quickly find a new project.
“A week after I got back, my advisor and I started trying to brainstorm another project to come up with.”
Thomas and another student worked together to study muscle development in little skates.
“It actually turned out pretty well because I ended up liking it so much that I wanted to start a PhD, which has been really good so far,” she said.
Even though Thomas and her fellow students aren’t in Dobo Hall and are still working experiments in mobile trailers, she says the storm has had a positive impact on her future.
“Initially I came in and I was just going to do my masters and it was going to be on an invertebrate so it was completely different from what I’m doing now and not even related to muscle physiology, but I really like what I do now.”