November 5, 2012

In Hurricane Sandy’s Wake, Cornell Students Recount Fear for Loved Ones

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At a University-organized support meeting Friday, students whose families were affected by Hurricane Sandy recalled the fear and stress they experienced trying to check in on their families over the week.

Christian de Laszlo ’13 said his hometown of Rumson, N.J., became so flooded during the storm Monday night that boats ended up in trees and parking lots became sandbars.

“The water stopped a foot before my house,” he said. “The house down the street was destroyed.”

As Sandy’s destruction unfolded, de Laszlo said he kept in close contact with family and friends, calling when possible and seeing pictures on Facebook showing the hurricane’s damage.

“I didn’t sleep at all Monday night,” he said, referring to the night when the superstorm touched down in New Jersey, bringing 80 m.p.h. winds and massive flooding to the area.

Having lost heat and electricity, de Laszlo’s family had to seek amenities from neighbors with a generator, he said. Many people in his town had no television or Internet service, so de Laszlo sent information and photographs to his family via cell phone.

“I was giving them updates about things happening less than a mile from where they were,” he said. “It was just crazy.”

Vanesa Lauradin’s ’13 family was also affected by Hurricane Sandy. Lauradin, who hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., said that she had trouble in getting in touch with of her family over the past week.

Lauradin said that trying to check in with her family while staying on top of her academic work over the past week has been especially difficult.

“I’ve been up to six in the morning doing work,” Lauradin said.

De Laszlo said that Cornell should have done more to reach out to students whose families were affected by the storm, saying that President Skorton’s email to the community Wednesday came too late and offered little relief to students.

Laszlo said he would have liked to see the University send out a message about flexibility with academic deadlines to affected students during or immediately following the hurricane.

“If someone emailed me on Monday night, saying, ‘just worry about yourself,’ I wouldn’t be this exhausted right now,” de Laszlo said. “Cornell students aren’t ones to ask for pressure relief.”

De Laszlo said that, because Cornell is a “high-pressure school,” it is not easy to reach out to professors to ask for flexibility with deadlines.

“If things are piling up, there needs to be some vent,” he said. “There needs to be a release that is accessible to students, that they don’t need to write a mercy letter to their professor, which is not easy to do for a lot of Cornellians. That’s not how people got here.”

Janet Shortall, assistant dean of students and director of the Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service — a peer-counseling program — agreed that there needs to be better communication between students and professors. She said that she hopes the University can “provide and support advocacy of academic consideration” for students who are struggling.

“I would just hope that if there are students who are continuing to struggle with their course work because of the stress of what is happening for their family at home … that they will reach out to their academic advising offices,” Shortall said.

Shortall also said she hopes that students who have not been directly affected by the storm will “remain mindful that there remain Cornell students who remain very worried for their families and can’t travel home because of the devastating aftermath of the storm on their communities.”

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