Alumni Share Experiences from Hurricane Harvey, MC Continues Relief

It’s been almost three weeks since Hurricane Harvey ravaged southeastern Texas. Student groups on campus, as well as alumni off campus, have been working collaboratively on relief efforts.

Marissa Piazza, a 2016 graduate of Manhattan College who is currently living in Texas, spoke with The Quadrangle about her experience with Hurricane Harvey, and the money she has been raising for victims.

“I live on the first floor of my apartment building, so I was anxious, but the weather in the week leading up to the hurricane was beautiful – such bright and sunny days, it was hard to believe a storm was approaching,” Piazza said.

Harvey98In the aftermath of the storm, gas prices skyrocketed. Piazza filled up her car with gas prior to this.

“I didn’t realize how important that would be since a lot of the refineries were shut down after the storm and a lot of stations around town still don’t have gas,” she said.

“On Thursday night before the storm, I was starting to get concerned that I would be stuck in my apartment all weekend if the weather and flooding were really as bad as predicted, so I stocked up on bottled water, gatorade, granola bars, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, bread and other canned goods. Even then, it felt like more of a precaution rather than reality.”

Piazza decided to work from home the Friday before the storm, as she was concerned about flooding, which is not uncommon in Houston.

“In the year that I’ve been here, I’ve experienced a fair share of flash floods. My phone will make the annoying beeping sound in the middle of the night, and I’ll wake up to learn that the exits and onramps to the highway are completely flooded and impassable. The crazy thing is sometimes the water drains by lunchtime and I can then travel to the office,” she said.

Though she said this was not the case with Hurricane Harvey, a category three storm that resulted in some areas receiving over 40 inches of rainfall.

“On Friday I decided to leave my apartment and stay with my cousin at her boyfriend’s family’s house in the Heights – another neighborhood in Houston. Their home was at a slightly higher elevation, so I thought it would be a safer bet. Even then, I packed as if I would be gone for maybe a couple days. Turns out I couldn’t even return to my apartment building until almost a week later due to the high water level,” Piazza said.

After the storm, Piazza and her cousin were discussing ways to raise money to purchase supplies for those most affected by the hurricane. They utilized their social media to call for donations.

In a Facebook post, Piazza wrote: “As Houston rebuilds and recovers from this flood, I am raising money to buy supplies to bring to the shelters around town. There has been an abundance of volunteers but many people have been displaced and are lacking basic necessities and toiletries. As soon as I can travel there safely, I plan to drop off supplies. I’ll post a picture of all the supplies I purchase and am looking into where volunteers are still needed.”

That same night, Piazza and a friend tried to volunteer at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston where victims were finding refuge, but were turned away due to an overwhelming number of volunteers.

Harvey99Not even a full day later, Piazza had already raised over $1,000. Colleen Kavanagh, also an alumni of MC, joined Piazza on a trip to Costco where they purchased supplies in bulk. When Piazza posted about this on social media, even more donations came in.

“Our plan was to raise money so that we could shop locally and give supplies and food directly to those in need. From a simple Instagram and Facebook post, I could not have anticipated the outpouring of both love and donations. To date, we have raised over $6000 and have purchased and delivered supplies to a variety of sources,” Piazza said.

Once donations had reached $4,000, Piazza opened a checking account called “Harvey Relief” and continues to receive donations for supplies that she is delivering to shelters.

Prior to Hurricane Harvey, there was an issue regarding the amount of people who were evacuating the state. Many people could not escape the storm, for reasons such as not having access to a car, being unable to afford transportation, or fear of leaving behind family members or pets. Piazza also shed light on another dilemma: traffic.

“Houston is a huge city with huge highways, but even on a regular day you experience gridlock.  Talking to friends who grew up in the area, everyone remembers the horror of Hurricane Rita in 2005. I read online that more than three million people tried to evacuate, and dozens of people died from heat stroke, car accidents, and heart related issues. It was only a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina,” she said.

Piazza was heartened by civilians coming to each other’s rescue in the aftermath of the storm.

“I think what has struck me the most about the rescue operations is how alongside emergency officials, regular people all over the city stepped up to make rescues. Louisiana’s Cajun Navy came to Houston – a volunteer rescue group of civilians that helped emergency responders during Katrina – with their bass boats, rowboats, and other fishing boats in tow. I even read a story about someone who had purchased a military vehicle for fun, but ended up driving it through flooded water and saving hundreds of people, his name is Nick Sissa,” she said.

Piazza continued.

“I think the magnitude of rain that Harvey brought, one estimate was half our annual rainfall over the course of two days, is what has made this hurricane particularly devastating. Houston is no stranger to flooding, but flooding like this was unprecedented,” she said.

Back at MC, students and faculty are also organizing.

Kathleen Von Euw, coordinator of community partnerships and service for Campus Ministry and Social Action, stresses the importance of receiving monetary donations at times like this.

“In the immediate time following a disaster like this, it’s not [crucial] to collect items, it’s to collect funds,” Von Euw said.

An account here at MC has been set up specifically for collecting donations.

Brother Jack Curran, FSC, Ph.D., who serves as the vice president for mission, also highlights the importance of emotional support.

Curran recently reached out to Sister Thoa at the De La Salle Vietnamese School, located in Cypress, Texas, which serves the greater Houston area with educating children while emphasizing the values of Vietnam, which include hard work, studiousness, and respect for one’s elders.

At the school, the De La Salle Chapel, De La Salle Educational Center, and the sisters’ house, are all gone.

Curran is hopeful that MC will be able to provide them with financial support, as well as a possible L.O.V.E. trip in the near future.

Timothy Hamling, a junior at the college, held a floor event in Horan Hall last Wednesday for students to learn about Harvey’s consequences, come up with ways to help families, and to donate.

Hamling raised $53.25 for the Red Cross Relief Fund, and handed out a pamphlet with information about the storm. Below are some statistics that Hamling gathered:

39.72 – The amount of rain in inches that fell on Houston during the peak of the storm.

13,000 – The number of rescues made within the state of Texas since the storm.

190 Billion – The approximate economic damage that Harvey caused.

Hamling also encouraged students to make donations to organizations like Global Giving, or to donate blood at American Red Cross blood drives.

Just this weekend, Hurricane Irma struck Florida and multiple Caribbean islands with even more force than Harvey. Not far behind Irma is Hurricane Jose, deemed a category four storm whose path is still undetermined, but nonetheless remains a threat to these already fractured areas. And last week, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Mexico and killed 90 people, a number that is expected to rise as the rubble is cleared. An impending tsunami is possible as a result of this eruption.

One comforting aspect of these disasters is the humanity that emerges from them. In the coming days, Harvey relief efforts on campus will expand to include these more recently distressed areas as well.