As the waters from Hurricane Harvey slowly recede, members of the Loyola community have jumped into action to aid those affected.
Harvey hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25 with peak wind speeds of more than 130 mph. Over the next week, it dropped more rain than any other storm in U.S. history, killing more than 60 people and displacing more than 20,000 others, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Katy Billups, a student in Loyola’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, lives part of the year in Rockport, Texas, where Harvey first made landfall. Her family fled Rockport to Dallas under a mandatory evacuation while their house was destroyed by the storm’s extreme winds.
As she and her family covered their windows and doors with plywood, Billups said Harvey’s winds started to pick up, and the street was already beginning to flood.
“We were glued to the TV, just watching the storm on the news hit Rockport first,” Billups, 30, said. “It was horrible … we know a lot of people who lived there full-time and decided to stay.”
Close to 900 Loyola students and alumni were affected by the storm, including several current students, according to a letter sent by Director of Campus Ministry Lisa Reiter Aug. 29. The letter urged students to send financial donations to Catholic Charities USA and to donate blood to the American Red Cross. Loyola sent letters of support to each Loyola student who lived in the storm’s path, according to Reiter.
“Loyola staff is reaching out to [those affected], and we ask that you keep these members of our Loyola family in your prayers along with everyone touched by this storm,” Reiter wrote.
The damage from Harvey was immense. While it is much too early to accurately measure Harvey’s cost, conservative estimates place the total damages around $70-90 billion, while others estimate it will surpass Hurricane Katrina, which caused around $160 billion in damage in 2005.
“Our house isn’t gone, but it’s basically gone,” Billups said. “It’s still standing, but … our roof is pretty much gone, the top is just caved in. The roof of the marina across the street just blew into our house and just knocked the top off.”
Loyola senior Chase Williams’ house in the River Oaks neighborhood just west of Houston, managed to escape the flooding even though the area saw close to two feet of rain in Harvey’s first 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service. Williams said his neighborhood experienced three to four feet of water by Sept. 1.
“I’m lucky,” Williams said. “[My house] is actually elevated along with a couple other ones, which are fine.”
Williams said his neighborhood’s sewer system was designed to handle large amounts of water and was less affected than poorer areas of the city. Others weren’t so lucky.
“My little brother’s best friend lives by the Bayou that comes through Houston … and that Bayou is completely overflown,” Williams said. “My little brother’s best friend literally watched his car float away.”
Loyola’s Student Alumni Ambassadors organized a campaign to collect financial donations and nonperishable food items Sept. 5-6 in the Damen Student Center and in residence halls.
“This is a big program and a big tragedy, and so it’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of program,” said Mary Houston, associate director of alumni relations.
Sloan Smith, a senior political science major at Loyola, helped collect donations. She said she wanted to help Harvey survivors in any way she could.
“We wanted to help lead by example and show everyone else, ‘Hey, let’s do something proactive,’ instead of just ‘hashtag support Harvey’ or something,” Smith said.
Doris Nwangwa, another student in Loyola’s ABSN program, was at home in southwest Houston when the storm hit. She described rapidly rising waters that quickly trapped her family inside their house, but said her home was spared the fate of many of her neighbors.
“It was so much rain,” Nwangwa said. “We were just waiting for the rain to come in and we were thinking, ‘There’s no way with this much wind that a window’s not gonna break or we’re not gonna get water in the house.’ It was a lot of noise, and you’re just on edge because you’re just sitting there waiting.”
Gina Cook is a Loyola sophomore Spanish and philosophy double major from an area of Houston that saw heavy flooding. During the worst of the storm, some neighbors sought refuge on her home’s second floor.
“We got a couple of inches inside the house,” Cook said. “We’re one of two two-story houses on my street, so some of our neighbors had to come over to our house because there was water in their house (sic), so we had a lot of people living in our upstairs during the flooding.”
Nwangwa said her area was well prepared. Despite Houston’s frequent floods, people stockpiled food and water before Harvey made landfall. Nwangwa commended excellent communication from state and local officials, as well as heavy news coverage of the incoming storm that gave people plenty of time to prepare.
“There was no bread and no water from the first day of the week,” Nwangwa said. “The first day was Friday … by Monday there was already no water, no bread at two of the Walmarts by me. People were scared this time.”
Volunteers and rescue workers continued to clean up and rescue survivors Labor Day weekend. For families like Billups’, it’s difficult to know where to start.
“All of [my father’s] livelihood was also pretty much flooded,” Billups said. “We own shopping centers — two in Houston, one in Victoria and another one in a small town called Liberty — all towns that were affected by the flooding. He’s trying to figure that out first, and then figure out our house. I was talking to my dad earlier and he said he’s just kind of numb at this point.”
Residents of Houston and the surrounding area are slowly returning to battered homes and awaiting federal disaster relief aid as Harvey’s floodwaters continue to recede. For residents like Nwangwa, community support is critical to recovery.
“My neighbors are staying in a hotel, so our neighborhood got together and raised some money,” Nwangwa said. “When I say ‘neighbors,’ I don’t mean just one particular family because that whole subdivision was under water. We all came together.