As Harvey Hits Texas, Harvard Students Fundraise, Recover

Vigil for Houston
Harvard affiliates gathered Friday at a vigil, organized by the Harvard Texas Club, for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which struck Houston at the end of August.

As the storm water inched higher, eventually engulfing her neighborhood and seeping into her home, Priya Amin ’19 was struggling to find an internet connection to email professors about classes. Outside, helicopters whirred, evacuating her neighbors as Hurricane Harvey smashed into southeast Texas.

“I was responsible for emailing professors and letting them know that I want to get in their classes and filling out application forms while I don't have electricity for the most part,” Amin said.

A native of Port Arthur, Texas, Amin—who was stranded in her home for five days with intermittent power and water—was one of several Harvard students who saw their neighborhoods flooded and struggled to arrive on campus for the start of the semester. The nation’s first major hurricane in 12 years, Harvey has already caused an estimated $150 billion in damages and claimed over 60 lives as it tore through Houston and communities across south Texas.

Between delayed flights, damaged property, and struggling family members, the storm has taken a toll on many Harvard students from the region.

After originally scheduling a flight for August 26, Bushra Hamid ’20 decided to reschedule her flight at the last minute in anticipation of the storm.

“I had to pack [in] five hours and leave. I couldn't say bye to my friends or family,” Hamid said. “I had to escape.”

Many students who did make it on campus before the storm hit were still affected by news of their family and friends back home. Eric F. Gao ’20 said he called home after he arrived on campus, only to find out the first floor of his house was flooded. Due to the floodwaters, his family will have to tear out drywall and throw away ruined furniture.

“Emotionally for me it was difficult because I had to leave home in a hurry, and I was thinking about the furniture and valuables and even my home, that it would be completely different the next time I saw it,” Gao said. “I wanted to be back in Houston with my family to help.”

Many affected students said that their peers and advisors reached out in support. Karen L. Yang ’20 said she and her family braved high floodwaters as they drove more than a hundred miles so she could catch a plane to campus. She said the Winthrop Faculty Deans were “super supportive,” encouraging her and other Texans to take care of their affairs at home before worrying about school.

On campus, the Harvard College Texas Club has led efforts to fundraise for victims of the storm. Friday night, dozens of students attended a candlelight vigil held by the club in support of those who had been affected by the storm.

One of the organizers and speakers at the vigil, Sara S. Surani ’18, cited her friends as motivation for holding the event. A resident of Corpus Christi, Surani was in constant communication with her friends who had been directly impacted by the hurricane.

“I was probably texting and calling upwards of twenty people every hour just to make sure they were alive, and every time I wouldn’t hear back I would be terrified that they didn’t make it or that they were trying to get out of their house,” Surani said.

According to Trey Sexton ’19, co-president of the Texas Club, the organization plans to facilitate Harvey relief donations in the Science Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Thursday of this week and is working with the Phillips Brooks House Association to collect in-kind donations for victims.

Many of the affected students stressed the importance of continual donations. Due to the high amount of damage caused by floodwater, restoration efforts will likely take years, according to Amin.

“Once the news stops covering it, people forget about it. But it’s not over,” said Amin.

—Staff writer Angela N. Fu can be reached at angela.fu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @angelanfu.

—Staff writer Dianne Lee can be reached at dianne.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @diannelee_

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