Thoughts on Hurricane Harvey

This blog post, which is in two parts, highlights the reflections of Angie and Ric Montelongo, as they describe their experiences during Hurricane Harvey that struck the Greater Houston area August 2017.


My partner and I live in the Clear Lake area on the Southeast side of Houston so when Hurricane Harvey hit the area, it was definitely a big deal.  There was not only the professional impact of wrapping up the orientation season on our campus but also the personal impact of worry, not only for ourselves but for friends and family in the area.  This would be a widespread storm that would impact much of Houston, including where ACPA18 convention will be held, The George R. Brown convention center, which ended up serving as one of the largest shelters in the city.  When our ACPA members arrive in March 2018, we should reflect on the experiences of individuals who had lost everything and lived in the convention center.  Many of those individuals were rescued from rooftops by boats and didn’t immediately know the status of family members.  It was a heavy burden still felt nearly two months later.

Below is my personal reflection on how the almost two weeks went for me both personally and professionally:

Tuesday, 8/22 – The first weather warnings from Houston meteorologists begin to emerge and we started talking about preparations at home (i.e. groceries, gas in cars, do we leave or stay, etc.).  The worst-case scenario was Harvey would dump 50 inches of rain in the Houston area.  Everyone was hoping for a shift but we were told be ready for the worst.

Wednesday, 8/23 – It was our last two-day orientation session and at our morning meeting, I warned our orientation leaders there is a “major” rain event coming this weekend and to start watching the news and getting prepared (a few had not heard anything at this point).  Campus leaders sent out the first email reminding students to pay attention to emergency notifications.  We thought about evacuating to my brother-in-law’s house but ultimately decided to stay.

Thursday, 8/24 – It’s the final day of orientation and as I’m running errands for our session around town, I noticed the rush for cases of water and non-perishable snacks.  I loaded up with candy knowing that Ric, my partner, already purchased our groceries.  I reminded my parents to stock their house since we live 30 minutes apart. If the flooding got as bad as predicted, I knew we wouldn’t be able to help them.  Later that day, a first-year student asked to leave orientation early because she lives in a voluntary evacuation zone.  Her single parent asked her to pick up her siblings so they can leave town.  We made arrangements for the student to have an earlier advising appointment.  She leaves early.  Luckily, when I see her the first week of classes, she and her family are okay – no flooding.  I reminded my team to stay safe, heed the warnings, and to make plans.  While many of them live at home, several are on their own and I wanted to make sure they were taking note of what Harvey could bring.

Friday, 8/25 – I spent the morning cleaning up after our final orientation session.  Our office closed at noon but it is announced the University will close at 1 PM and further decisions announced over the weekend.  We are asked to turn off our computers and copiers.  I also ran errands in anticipation of not being able to leave the house for a few days.  The weather forecast still called for the worst case scenario and rain began on our side of town that afternoon.  At this point, it is likely that our campus would not evacuate our students. Reflecting back, this is a good decision as our students evacuate to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville; they also received a lot of rain and it would have taken several days to get our students back to campus due to highway closures.

Saturday, 8/26 – The rain was steady and we watched local coverage all day (local networks didn’t switch to regular programming until Thursday evening).  The Mayor provided updates on where we see flooding already and where rescues are happening.  I’m stunned when asked if they need the public’s help, Ed Emmett (Harris County Judge) doesn’t hesitate to say yes.  He asks for boats to get dispatched to certain areas.  I can’t remember an instance of this happening before – anywhere.  I’m so proud of my city because Houstonians respond in force!  I start to see captions of how this is America and not Charlottesville – neighbors helping neighbors, people helping strangers, making sure that pets aren’t left behind, etc.  The Cajun Navy is on their way to help, the armed forces are headed our way and so is HEB.  If you’re from Texas, HEB is THE grocery store and they proved their worth many times over in this crisis. Countless rescuers from all over the state and other states pour in.  The city comes together in a beautiful way.  Campus is closed through Monday at this point so we keep waiting for news.

Sunday, 8/27 – We woke up to howling winds and end up sheltering in our bathroom during a tornado warning a few minutes later.  We stayed up the whole night and I fall asleep for 2 hours at 4:30am.  The rain was relentless and creeping up the driveway.

Monday, 8/28 – I sent a message to my team asking them to check-in and we have one orientation leader who was evacuated from her home in Baytown. There are reports of rescues from roofs but the city warns people to not go in their attics without axes for fear of not being able to get out.  Social media plays a big part in making sure people are staying connected and in some cases, getting rescued.  You witness people getting out of rescue boats and vehicles with a garbage bag, pets or an armful of belongings and you sympathize with them.  Many school districts are closed.

Tuesday, 8/29 – We gathered donations and Ric attempted to get to a shelter in Friendswood.  He had to turn back around due to high water.  All we can do is wait for the rain to recede.  I did a lot of reading, some coloring and word searches.  I hung out with our dogs and just kept hoping for the best. I check in with everyone and finally check email.  I don’t get email on my phone so I respond to our AVP who is checking on staff members and get caught up on a variety of emails.  We drove around the area and end up at our favorite low-key restaurant.  The place is packed with people just trying to get out and gain some normalcy back.  I restocked my candy stash.    

Wednesday, 8/30 – A coworker asks if I can meet on Friday to discuss post-Harvey relief efforts.  I invited a couple of faculty members to join us.  The city is now worried about levees and controlled releases will flood several neighborhoods. While our area is not directly impacted, it’s still scary to see the images continue of people fleeing their homes.  We are several days past the official “hit” of Harvey but the city is still not in recovery mode.  Shelters are open in the city; I swell with pride as long lines surround the George R. Brown convention center – the lines are volunteers who have answered the call for help.  

Thursday, 8/31 – I tried to find a place to volunteer but no luck. I post a message on Facebook encouraging us to be supportive of students returning to campus, whether it’s a program or listening to them or simply being visible. My goal is to be as visible as possible once we’re back on campus for a modified Welcome Week.  The university is moving forward with a “triage” unit consisting primarily of Enrollment Management staff but also some key Student Services offices (AVP, Counseling Services, etc).   

Friday, 9/1 – Several colleagues and students successfully developed a plan for collection of Harvey relief donations the day after classes start. The support within the campus community for one other was encouraging to be a part of – the common question once we were back on campus was:  “How were you coping during Harvey?”

Saturday, 9/2 – Things went sort of back to normal with errands and preparing to go back to work on Tuesday.  We see the first notice from a very close friend’s wife asking for prayers for him.

Sunday, 9/3 – That close friend, Erik Colon, was a key part of my ACPA experience for over a decade and we learn he passed away.  He was a strong member of Latina/o/x Network, a great higher ed professional, and a loving father and husband.  His death hit us hard.

As I look back over the past month, I realize how often I felt guilty and helpless (still do to be honest).  I got emotional several times as students picked up donated items.  I appreciate we personally did not experience  much damage but it’s hard watching family and friends experience loss without being able to help much.  There are lots of lessons learned both personally and professionally and while I hope we don’t face another Harvey, I do feel better prepared.

ACPA provides countless opportunities to reflect and learn about oneself and 2018 Convention is no different.  Houston will still be recovering from Harvey when we are here in March 2018.  It will be important for each of us to take time to recognize the impact this disaster had on our host city.  How can we leave a lasting positive impact on a city that has lost so much?  The Convention Planning Team is collaborating to answer that question and anticipates each of you joining us ACPA18 Convention.


This next post was originally appeared on my personal blog/website on August 29, 2017, two days after the historic rainfall that fell on Houston from Tropical Storm Harvey.  When the storm finally passed, it was reported that the Clear Lake City area of Houston, where I live, received 50+ inches of rain.  When I wrote this Coast Guard helicopters were still flying over our house en route to rescue people from flooded neighborhoods just a few miles from my house. Around the clock news coverage was still on the local networks and the city was just realizing how bad the storm truly was over that weekend.  My reflections were current at that time and I wanted to highlight how Houstonians came together to help each other out.  As sad as it was to see my city underwater, it was remarkable to see how Houston neighbors helped neighbors to safety and calm.  It was something I will never forget.  It makes me love Houston more!

As I write this, yet another band of heavy rain is hitting the Clear Lake City area of Houston.  Harvey has been a storm of historic portions.  It will likely go down in the history books as one of the costliest and most damaging storms ever recorded.  Knowing that I lived through it along with millions of other Houstonians is both sobering and fascinating.  Sobering in knowing that just 3-4 miles north and south of where I live, families are still being rescued via boats from houses with feet, not inches, of water inside them.  Fascinating in that the flat boats being used for many rescues are largely owned by everyday citizens who came to help their neighbors.  We also learned about something called the “Cajun Navy”, who have been pivotal players in many high water rescues.

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the “human goodness” that shows when disasters strike.  I asked, why does it only have to show up during catastrophic events like Harvey?  I do hope that the goodness continues.  Houstonians and Texans stepped up to help their fellow Texans.  I would say this is very true.  Today, there was a nice short story about a huge earth mover truck being used to rescue people from one flooded neighborhood.  The news showed the truck just as it was about to unload the rescuees. Once it did, you saw families who were diverse. Those helping unload the truck were police officers from a neighboring district. When the reporter asked one of the officers if the driver would be interested in being interviewed, he said the driver didn’t speak English. In an attempt to speak to the driver, he politely refused to talk and went back to rescuing others. This small moment after the storm to me represented a microcosm of Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the nation where Houstonians help each other.

We will have days, weeks, months, and dare I say, years to recover.  Houston has a lot to fix, but we will bounce back.  As awful as the past few days have been, Houstonians have shared experience that no one (hopefully) has experienced.  On top of this, the experience was mostly shared on social media.  If you were in the middle of the storm like I was during the first night, text messages and things like Facebook was your connection to know what was happening and for others to make sure all was okay (or not).  For those outside of Houston, you shared our pain.  You cried when you saw our senior citizens and young children emerge from the floodwaters.  You even got the “feels” when you saw examples of humans helping other humans (my favorite was the person who shared her large porch to individuals being unloaded from rescue boats, which soon became a mini-community center that included cookies, donuts and coffee!).  Houston, I hope, will be remembered for what a large urban city can be – a diverse, helpful, caring community of neighbors.

Our new sense of shared community will be tested once this is over.  Hurricane Ike in 2008 gave a preview of this idea.  Years after, I believe that some positive impact was made on Houston. Living here after, I feel that I know my neighbors better and as Harvey showed, we stepped up to the plate quickly when someone said, “please help”.  Positive change was seen and I personally think those that remembered and lived through Ike knew that it was time to take care

Goodness needs to keep going.

Again, as I type this more rain is falling.  We don’t need more rain.  As one of my college friends stated earlier today, “I used to like the sound of falling rain.”

I agree.  Falling rain will forever make millions of Houstonians sad, scared, and wondering what will be next.

Only answer I can think of is onward.


Authors

Angie Montelongo (she/her/hers).
@acmontel

Angie Montelongo currently serves as the Director of New Student Programs at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. She has been a member of ACPA for 20+ years and has worked in higher education in a variety of roles, including Residence Life, Student Activities and Orientation programs.  She served on the 2012 Louisville convention planning team and is proud to be on the 2018 Houston team in an advocacy role on the Equity and Inclusion team.  Part of her responsibilities are to raise awareness of issues in Texas politics leading up to the 2018 convention.

Ricardo Montelongo, Ph.D. (he/him/his)
@rmontelo

Ricardo Montelongo, Ph. D. is Assistant Professor of Higher Education Administration at Sam Houston State University.  He received his Ph.D. in Higher Education from Indiana University and a M.S. in Student Affairs Administration and B.S. in Psychology both from Texas A&M University. His primary research interests include educational outcomes associated with college student involvement, factors influencing involvement in extracurricular activities, and impact of Latina/o/x college student organizations on members.  Additional research areas include diversity issues in higher education administration, college campus environments, and online learning in higher education. He has twenty years professional administrative experience in the areas of student success, undergraduate academic support services, academic advising, Student Support Services/TRiO, institutional research, career development and residence life. Dr. Montelongo is very active in ACPA College Student Educators International and was co-chair of its Latinx Network from 2011-2013.

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