Houston-area Albion Students on Hurricane Harvey’s Aftermath

Guest Piece by Mackie Black

Hurricane Harvey recently brought ruin across the state of Texas, especially in the Houston area. Now we are faced with its aftermath. While Houston experienced bad flooding during Hurricane Ike in 2008 and during the Memorial Day flood in 2015, Hurricane Harvey brought a new level of devastation from August 24 through September 3.

While I currently attend Albion College here in Michigan, I am originally from The Woodlands, a small township just north of Houston proper. My family experienced Harvey and the flooding apart from me, which I’ve found difficult. But in numbers, there is comfort, and I knew there were other people at Albion in the same position.  I was curious to see how our stories and experience would compare to mine.

My Story

The day before Harvey hit, my dad flew home from a business trip in Washington, D.C., so that he could be with my mom during the hurricane. That night, they went to Kroger to get some supplies and found that all of the shelves were nearly empty. They were only able to get instant coffee. When they got home, they brought their portable generator into the garage and put sandbags around the front and back doors.

Over the next few days, it just kept raining. They watched as the water slowly crept towards the house and watched the devastation in Houston on the news. Whenever the rain would let up to a drizzle for even ten minutes, they would try to go outside. My dad went on several runs in the pouring rain just to get out of the house. For the first few days they were able go to Kroger or the gas station. Soon, all of the access roads to my house were so flooded that even my dad’s Ford F-150 could not get through. They were stuck at home with little to do. There was no garbage pickup for two weeks, and since the hurricane, my family has only received six pieces of mail.

My family was extremely lucky in that our house did not flood or lose power. As soon as the roads were clear, my mom began volunteering with the Red Cross to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

It was horrible to have to watch the news at Albion and not know at any given moment whether my parents were okay. We talked when we could, but every morning I woke up fearing that I would have a text saying that they had evacuated because the house had flooded.

For the first few days, I felt completely alone on campus. Then all of the sudden, everyone seemed to remember I was from the Houston area. I got a flood of texts and emails asking if my family was okay. The school reached out to make sure my family was okay and see if they could help us in any way possible. Even my bank emailed me to see if I needed help. It was encouraging to know that so many people care about the wellbeing of my family and I.

Ivonne Castañeda’s Story

Ivonne Castañeda is a first-year student at Albion, and she is from the north side of Houston adjacent to an area known as The Heights, about twenty minutes from where I live. Her immediate family lives in Houston, with other family members living in San Antonio and Mexico. Luckily, neither Hurricane Harvey nor the earthquake that occurred on September 19 in Mexico gravely affected any of her family members outside of Houston.

Ivonne has an aunt who lives in Houston whose house typically floods during heavy storms. Due to Hurricane Harvey, Ivonne’s aunt had to evacuate to Dallas, which is where the city of Houston sent people when shelters began to overflow. Luckily, Ivonne’s family home did not flood, and the roads around her home were passable, though slightly flooded. While the roads around Ivonne’s home are mostly cleared and are not flooded over anymore, one bridge used to get to her aunt’s house is still flooded.

This is not Ivonne’s first rodeo when it comes to floods. Her high school is prone to flooding and one time had to replace all of its cellos because they were water-logged after a flood. During Hurricane Harvey, the school was under repair, so the flooding severely damaged it. Students are being reassigned to other schools for the school year due to the damage.

Her family is doing just fine. Roads are reopened and they are back to work and doing well.

Ivonne also experienced the emotional hardships that I experienced, but on a different level. She has first-hand experience with the terror of flash flooding. She told me that a few years ago, during one of Houston’s previous floods, she was stuck in a flooding car. Getting out of one is a feat many people are unable to accomplish and pay for with their lives. Because of this experience, she understands better than many the fear involved with a flood.

It was hard to not be able to be with her family during all of the flooding, Ivonne said. She was anxious and kept asking herself why she was able to be safe here at Albion while everyone she loved was not safe back in Houston, back home. These fears of hers were also eased by friends reaching out to her, just as my anxieties and fears were. The school also reached out to ensure that Ivonne and her family were okay and to let her know that they were there for her. This was encouraging and helped with these anxieties.

Lyssa Gonzalez’s Story

Lyssa is also a first-year student at Albion. She is from the south side of Houston, about an hour away from where my family lives. Her entire family lives in and around the Houston area. Lyssa grew up in an older house that had once belonged to her grandparents. This house had already been affected by previous hurricanes such as Ike and Katrina. Luckily, with Hurricane Harvey, the damage was not that bad. Her roof was ruined in places, but there was no other damage.

Lyssa’s house did not flood, which is lucky, as she lives closer to the coastal side of the city. Her mom does not work, so she was able to stay home during the flood and not risk driving. Her dad works for his sister, so both were able to stay home. They were cautious about where they went, avoiding flooded areas. Her little brother’s school was cancelled for a week due to flooding, so he too stayed home.

Now her family is doing fine. They are working on getting the roof fixed, her dad is back at work and her little brother is back at school.

Lyssa too felt the anxieties and hardships of being away from home while this disaster occurred. She felt helpless in that all she was able to do was check in on her family through phone calls because she was not able to see that they were safe in person. It was very hard for her to be here while her family was at home in unsafe conditions. Many people reached out to her to ask if she needed anything and to make sure her family was safe. The school emailed Lyssa as well. This gave her a sense of comfort in knowing that Albion cares for her and her family.

Rebuilding

What I discovered in talking with Ivonne and Lyssa and by thinking about my own experience is that not all Houstonians experienced Hurricane Harvey in the same way. I am happy to say that the three of us here at Albion had mild experiences of the storm and the flooding, though each of them were different in their own way. Through these conversations, I learned that Houston is not just one city. It is Downtown, East Downtown, the East End, Greenspoint, Memorial City, Midtown, the North Side. It is Southeast Houston (near where Lyssa lives), Spring Branch, Westchase, Upper Kirby, and The Heights (near where Ivonne lives). It includes other smaller cities like The Woodlands (where I live), Shenandoah, Bellaire, Jersey Village, Willowbrook, Aldine, Humble, Atascocita, Kingwood and many more.

Talking with Lyssa and Ivonne showed me the strength of the Houston community as a whole, as they each described how their families were surviving the storm and the aftermath along with their communities. While many of these areas were devastated, Houston will rebuild, as we have time and again, and it is nice to know that not only have I made two new friends from the area, but that Albion College cares about each and every one of us that have experienced this disaster.

Photos courtesy of Mackie Black

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