Scott Dalton / The New York Times

A car is caught in the flooding in Houston Monday.

August 29, 2017

Hurricane Harvey Hits Home for Cornellians

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Before Eric Bailey ’19 opened his parents’ text messages Sunday morning, he had no idea any water would be flowing into his home in Houston, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

“There had been no evacuation notice or anything from the city,” he said. “But there ended up being enough water that they couldn’t stay at home. It was up to 15 inches or so.”

As the outer edges of the cyclone had started hitting the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 hurricane, Houston was expected to face a “multiday rainfall disaster” over five to six days, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“My parents actually had to borrow a kayak from a neighbor and take the essentials to a neighbor’s house until the floodwaters receded,” Bailey said. “Now they’re staying with some other relatives I have in Houston. It’s definitely scary.”

The storm plummeted through southeastern Texas, bringing 130-m.p.h. winds and torrential rainfall to the region, the National Hurricane Center said — affecting people underneath its path, including millions in the fourth-largest metropolitan area in America.

The hurricane was defined as “life-threatening” due to potential flooding and strong winds that could leave parts of South Texas “uninhabitable for weeks or months,” according to the National Weather Service.

For Cornell students from the region, reports of the destruction stirred up concerns for loved ones back home.

“There’s been a lot of FaceTiming and a lot of calling.” said Raven Schwam-Curtis ’20, whose mother, grandparents and cousins were struck by unprecedented floodings. “It’s hard to not be there and not know what’s going on when I don’t hear back from them, say for an hour.”

Her mother, who lives in downtown Houston, has been trapped in her flooded house, where the ceilings and molding is peeling off and water is seeping in from the walls.

“She hasn’t really been sleeping. She’s waking up every few hours and using the bucket to clear the water,” she said. “I’m very worried and have been obsessively checking in with her.”

As the onslaught continued, Schwam-Curtis kept in touch with her extended family through a group chat.

“One of my little cousins would text us from a rural area about the flooding there,” she said. “There was a crocodile right outside the door.”

As Harvey’s destruction unfolded, Autumn Watt ’19 received pictures from her parents of her house and her neighborhood in Houston.

“I didn’t really understand the gravity of what it was until I looked at the pictures,” she said. “I FaceTimed my parents on Sunday and they showed me my house and all of the furniture were pretty much gone.”

While her house was not flooded, she said, the streets were filled with water and her parents moved the furniture upstairs.

“My mom’s really stressed,” she said. “My dad said that the local news channel got kicked off the air because their place flooded.”

While she said hurricanes and flooding have been a regular occurrence for her family, this year’s events have been especially frightening and worrisome.

“My neighbors were kayaking down flooded streets,” Watt said. “Some two-story apartments were flooded and a lot of people were talking about moving their furniture.”

“People were asking for somebody to rescue them out of their house,” she added.

As she kept seeing posts on Facebook showing the hurricane’s damage around her neighborhood, she said she kept in close contact with her friends and sometimes even received calls from friends who she had not spoken to in a long time.

Since the flooding, distance from home has been especially overwhelming to bear for Kaya Coleman ’20, whose parents and brother are forced to stay home and unable to travel to work or school.

“Being away from home is hard, because I can see what’s going on but I’m so far away and can’t help them,” she said. “I feel sad that I can’t be of service to them.”

In addition to flooded streets surrounding her house, Coleman’s family experienced a power outage for two days during the deluge.

“When the storm turned from a Category 3 into Category 4, they knew they weren’t prepared,” she said.

For Viridiana Garcia ’20, a Sun arts writer who drove to Houston to attend a Coldplay concert with her family on Friday, the news could not be more visceral.

“They were closing off the roads and the metros were shut down,” she said.

While Garcia was there, 17 inches of rain had fallen, and the affected area stretched along Texas’ most populous region from Corpus Christi, where her cousin went to school, to Houston.

She said her flight out of Houston was one of the last ones before there were no more.

“I was really anxious,” she said. “My family had to drive back home, which is a seven-hour drive south of Houston. I tried to keep an eye out on what was going on as they slowly made it home.”

As the disaster subsided, students began to anticipate the burden their families would bear to recover from the damage — and this is especially grueling for those who had experienced similar events before.

“This is actually the third time we flooded in three years,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of debris in the house, which is very unpleasant, and reclaiming your home back is difficult after the flood.”

While Schwam-Curtis’ family had made it through Hurricane Katrina in 2005, one of the deadliest in recent history, the calamities from Hurricane Harvey are not easy to withstand.

“We made it through Katrina and there’s a strong sense of solidarity from it in Houston,” she said. “But it’s still really crazy — the magnitude of this thing.”