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Hurricane Harvey hits home

DU students share family experiences

By Kaelin Bass
On September 15, 2017

 

NEW ORLEANS (Sept. 15, 2017) – Evacuation of children and the elderly. Flooded and destroyed homes. Helping to save others. And now the long road to recovery.

New Orleans is 350 miles from Houston, but it has many connections, not the least of which is the impact of hurricanes on the community: Hurricane Harvey earlier this month and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

At least three of the approximately 85 Dillard students who are from the Houston area reported that their families were affected in what has been described at the largest natural disaster since Katrina. They reported property damage but no deaths.

At least 70 people were killed and 13 million affected from Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Gov. Greg Abbott has estimated Texas alone will need more than $125 billion in federal relief as a result of the Category 4 storm.

Here are the stories of how the storm affected three students: Javonna Holmes, a freshman mass communication major from Pearland, Texas; Joseph Caldwell, an urban studies major from the east side of Houston; and Victoria Anderson, a film major from Houston’s Third Ward.

Grandparents and their foster children

Holmes was at school and didn’t realize how serious things were until she learned about a “Gofundme” account her relatives had started for her grandparents and their six foster children ranging in age from 3 weeks old to 9. Frederick and Rena Johnson, who are in their late 60s and early 70s, have reared adopted and foster children for many years and most recently adopted the 3-week-old baby, Holmes said.

She reported that the family was out of town, but the first floor was flooded. She plans to go home at the end of the month to help with the cleanup.

“It’s definitely a lot of stress,” but I believe my family is holding up well…They’re soldiers.”

A flooded home

Caldwell said his family’s home and those of close family and friends were among the affected properties. He said only the first floor flooded at his home, so his family didn’t have to rescued or evacuated.

Even so, he said, “It was scary seeing and hearing about friends and family who were being rescued on boats” as friends sent video footage to his phone. One friend tweeted about his rescue.

Caldwell said his area of town typically doesn’t flood, “so it was a huge shock for us…Water was literally at the roof of houses.”

Aunt in peril

Anderson said the homes of two aunts were destroyed by flooding from Harvey. One, Roxy McKinney, 63, decided to evacuate once she realized the levee at Columbia Lake had been breached, said Anderson. But the other, Gwendolyn Brown, 57, chose to stay and had to be rescued by her neighbors in a boat.

“I think the most interesting part of this experience is that no one was prepared for the severity of the storm, but once it hit Houston, the city and community came together,” Anderson said. “And there was no distinction between race, religion or class.”

She said her family is now helping the aunts with cleanup so repairs can begin.

Helping with the rescue

Meanwhile, mass communication major Megan Reed applauded the actions of her brother, who was one of many individuals helping rescue stranded residents. Alvin Tillman, 38, who moved from Houma to Sugar Land, Texas, secured his family and then went out into the community.

“We used boats, trucks that were 4-5 feet in the air, pool floaties and even blow-up pools” in the rescues, Tillman said. “You had thousands of people who needed help.”

Tillman said he plans to do fundraising through his Brazilian Jiu jitsu team events.

Any students in need of assistance may make an appointment with DU counselors in the Student Union of its chaplain, the Rev. Ernest Salsberry.

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