Students Grapple with Damage, Fallout of Recent Hurricanes

(Mary Jane Coppock / The Student Life)

Hurricane Harvey tore into Texas in late August, with Category Four winds up to 130 mph and over 50 inches of rain, breaking a record for the continental United States. Last weekend, Hurricane Irma made landfall in South Florida, also at Category Four.

5C students and their families are among those affected by these storms. While most students from the affected areas were safe in Claremont, watching their hometowns get hit wasn't easy.

“It’s hard to be here in Claremont and not be there to help out,” Lauren Schoen PO ‘20, whose family lives in Houston, wrote in an email to TSL. “My entire Facebook feed during the storm was of friends posting videos of their houses flooding, of being rescued by boats .... It was difficult to watch, and know I can’t be there for them.”

The Harvey death toll is up to 82 people, with up to $65 billion in damage, and the Irma death toll has reached 31 people, according to latest reports. Officials have not yet calculated the damage from Irma.

Jeni Zhu HM ‘21 called her parents in Coral Springs, Florida and texted friends and high school teachers in areas that lost power.

“Although it’s hard to help from afar, the best thing you can do for someone who is riding out the storm is to keep them updated if they lose power,” Zhu said.

With social media and a 24-hour news cycle focusing on the hurricanes, however, some students needed to limit their exposure.

“[I saw] video after video of really bad things or really good things, people saving themselves or people saving each other, to really horrible things – this is flooded now and then this is flooded now and you’re just like, ‘I know that place. Wow, my friends live there,’” said Amanda Martinez SC ‘20, who is also from Houston.

“For a lot of time, I would slam my phone down, because it would drain a lot of your energy at random dinners and random social settings," she said. "So it was really hard to try to force yourself to stop and try to be here and do nothing about it.”

Martinez was able to leave Houston in time for the first day of classes, but said others were stuck there during the storm. One of her friends just arrived on campus last week. Blocked roadways and delayed flights caused by the hurricanes left some students stranded at the start of the academic year.

“A lot of my friends were in mandatory evacuation areas, but it was impossible [for them to evacuate],” said Shiv Pandya PO’ 20 of Sugar Land, Texas, a city just southwest of Houston.

“Some of my friends’ houses got flooded,” Pandya added. “One of my friends left [for college] and was able to make it out, so another one left a few hours later and was going follow the same pathway, but then that pathway got flooded and she ended up having to get rescued from her sinking car.”

In the wake of the devastation, the 5Cs have worked to provide affected students with academic, financial, and mental support.

“I have reached out to all students whose home addresses were in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Mexico, checking in with them, if they have any needs or concerns, checking to see how their families are doing given the natural disasters,” Pomona College Dean of Students, Miriam Feldblum, wrote in an email to TSL. “The Financial Aid office also reaches out to students to let them know to connect with financial aid in case new needs arise.”

Martinez said a Scripps College dean told her the administration has talked to the professors of students who have not yet arrived on campus and will be patient with such cases.

Pandya also received emails from Pomona during the storm, asking students to reach out for resources, including immediate assistance regarding financial aid.

“They were pretty understanding,” Pandya said. “I know some students who weren’t able to come, so I think they’re taking everything into account – the Financial Aid Office and the Pomona College community has been really good too. It was a bumpy period for about a week, but it was a good community here to have.”

Janet Asante SC ’21, from Houston, appreciated her primary contact dean reaching out to support her during Hurricane Harvey. But what made the biggest difference to her, she said, was the support she received from her peers.

“Everyone during orientation week, once they heard I was from Houston, would ask me how I was doing,” Asante said. “Hurricanes are part of the Texans’ life, and I was not sure if people around here would care. The fact that they did made all the difference for me.”