For most people, it had been impossible to go a day without seeing ominous headlines such as, “Newborns in intensive care flown out of Hurricane Harvey's path” and “Catastrophic flooding ‘beyond anything experienced’ in Houston.’” The record-setting storm made landfall south of Houston near Corpus Christi, Texas on Friday, August 24, and the effects of the hurricane still linger.
On Covenant’s first day of school, however, the personal stories of Harvey within our own community were lost. For students from Houston, August 24 was not just the first day of classes. Hundreds of miles away, students’ parents tucked blankets and towels under doors, moved furniture to avoid water damage, and prayed for what progressively evolved into a more ominous deluge than many expected.
Covenant student Jordan Mixon (‘19) said, “In some natural disasters there are things you can do to prepare, but in this case, there just isn’t.”
Many families, even as late as Thursday, were not aware of how intense Harvey would be. The anxiety of what loomed over the gulf triggered nervous preparation for what would end up being a weekend-long storm.
Friday afternoon, as many students strolled out of class checking football schedules and texts on their phones, other students nervously called their families while repeatedly refreshing news and weather websites. Julianne Grimley (‘19) was one of these students. She said that on that Friday, “I had a really hard time focusing on school just because I was wanting all the time to look up what was happening.”
Meanwhile in Houston, many families had to go to shelters and churches to find WiFi so that they could contact family and friends. The rain persisted through the weekend, and Friday’s forecasts called for twenty-five to fifty inches of rain.
As the rain continued, Mixon recalled, “I was in class, and I thought, ‘This is weird. I just have to go about my day when there is water creeping up to my house.’”
After the storm, it was clear the road to recovery would be quite long. Even if houses were not flooded with water, they were inevitably flooded with refugees whose homes had been destroyed by water and debris. John O’Carroll (‘18) said, “We have family friends staying with us right now that are three streets away who moved into their house three months ago. And it’s about six feet underwater.”
In Houston, the recovery efforts continue. The National Weather Service in Houston has deemed certain areas of South Texas “uninhabitable for months.” Videos and pictures in the days following the storm showed boats motoring down flooded roads, scooping up families who sat on rooftops and floating debris. O’Carroll also recounted having to reschedule a phone interview with a man in Houston who rescued uprooted residents on his boat.
Grimley watches the flood’s devastation from afar. “I was seeing videos of places I’ve driven down my whole life that the buildings are half way covered by water,” she said. Debris and trash have filled the roads and floated throughout the city, since no trash collection agencies are able to remove it due to the floods.
Beyond the destruction of houses, many other aspects of everyday life have become complex and difficult. Aubrey Smith (‘18) said, “There were several gas stations in North Houston that didn’t have gas, and there were lines at the gas stations that did have gas.”
Shelters in the Houston area have become microcosms of the city. Citizens at the shelter who have homes are taking laundry to their houses for affected families, and pharmacists are delivering medications to those who have no vehicles or who cannot navigate the city to access a Walgreen’s or CVS.
Yet, in the midst of such difficulty, Houstonians have remained positive. “It’s important for people to hear how positive we are. We have a lot of money raised, and people are helping each other,” said O’Carroll.
Smith echoed O’Carroll’s sentiments with regards to Chattanooga’s relief support: “Even as far out as we are here, the blood drive and the food drive are still supplying the affected areas.”
Many churches in the affected area have also been providing support, and many Covenant students from the Houston area have stressed how helpful churches have been in efforts to house displaced families and provide services unavailable to those who have lost much.
As for support the Covenant community can give, both financially and relationally, Houstonian students offered both encouragements and cautions.
Organizations like Salvation Army, Red Cross, and even businesses like Yeti have been very active in recovery, as well as local churches such as Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church, who has collected food and clothing donations. On social media, one can find many private funding attempts for families and businesses in Houston.
Amidst all of these opportunities to support, however, it is important to consider the whole scope of the issue. Mixon stressed that, while the above efforts are important and effective, donations to and support of specific churches in the Houston area are a necessity. As earlier mentioned, many of these churches are providing solace and service to affected families. Many of these families, moreover, will not garner the assistance of larger organizations because of the mere magnitude of the damage. Thus, supporting various churches in the area will provide support and rebuilding to a broader spectrum of locations and issues for Houston.
Lastly, the affected students urged the Covenant community to continue praying for Houston and its residents. As relief and restoration will span many months and cost millions, they noted that prayer for families, workers, and the community as a whole is a necessity and a responsibility of the body of Christ.
With Hurricane Irma already affecting the Southeast this week, we have the ability to learn from those who have already experienced the fray and how, on Covenant’s campus, to support those from affected areas and their family members.