Students Aid Harvey Relief Efforts

Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Texas Aug. 25./Courtesy of Jimi Rebelling

“I didn’t sleep that night,” said Jamie Guillen (19C), who couldn’t help but feel guilty and worried as she lay in her safe bed at Emory while friends and family back in Houston, Texas, fought to survive the devastating Category 4 Hurricane Harvey.

Devastation and guilt have become common threads over the past several days among Emory students from Texas, where Hurricane Harvey made landfall Aug. 25.

After Hurricane Harvey’s destructive winds and rain tore through parts of the Lone Star State, entire neighborhoods sank underwater and families became separated from each other and their homes. Residents were forced to abandon their possessions, keeping only what they could fit on small rescue boats.

“They lost everything,” both Guillen and Texas native Daniel Eshbaugh (20C) said.

Although Guillen and Eshbaugh were physically safe at school in Atlanta, they worried about the safety of their friends and family back home.

Guillen, who resides in Houston, said she followed Zello, a smartphone app that functions as a walkie talkie, for nearly the entire night Aug. 26. She and friends still in Houston used it to redirect help toward those that they knew were still stranded in flooded homes.

Guillen recalled attempting to get help for her cousin, who had been stuck in a home with 15 other adults and four children. Eventually, rescuers came — but not for her cousin. Rescuers were so overwhelmed with relief efforts around the area that they were forced to only take children, Guillen said. The rescuers informed the adults that not only were they not going to come back for them later, but also that they would be forced to open a channel that would flood over the neighborhood soon, according to Guillen. And although Guillen’s cousin was eventually rescued, reports by CNN and The Atlantic showed that her cousin was not alone in dealing with issues from the city’s infrastructure and layout.

At times while she was frantically trying to get help for her friends and family, Guillen felt helpless. A friend who was stranded in a makeshift shed with his father and two dogs had powered off their phones to save battery, and when Guillen called the Coast Guard on their behalf, she was met with a lack of help.

Even after explaining the situation — the shed had begun flooding and their phones were turned off — the Coast Guard told Guillen, “Well, I’m sorry, but they need to call … You’re just going to have to wait for them to call,” according to Guillen. Eventually Guillen’s friend and his father made it to safety.

In a statement to CNN, the Coast Guard said “Coast Guard first responders were faced with an overwhelming request for assistance due to Hurricane Harvey. On-scene rescue crews made determinations based upon emergent factors (i.e. immediate, life-threatening situations) and the conditions faced on the scene.”

Though some residents took shelter with friends and family, others found no other alternative to “living in a football stadium or church … for now,” Eshbaugh said.

Both Guillen and Eshbaugh are trying to help residents of Texas from Atlanta.

Guillen has set up a donation bin outside of her dorm room in URC Building C, room 105, to collect baby formula, cleaning supplies, toiletries, food and water, and said that the Emory student community has shown support, though she encountered difficulties when trying to put donation bins around campus. She expressed frustration that Michael Kloss, chief of staff for the Office of the President, denied on behalf of University President Claire E. Sterk her request to Sterk to put donations bins around campus.

“With regards to fundraising bins, I believe the concern is on the safety of the location and the responsible parties involved,” Jessi Grizzard Arnidis, director of Development and Alumni Relations wrote in a Sept. 5 email to the Wheel.

Although Eshbaugh lives in Austin and his family wasn’t directly affected, he said he has friends in Texas who lost everything. The Sophomore Advisor (SA) for The Complex set up “Change for Change,” a competition where residents can donate change to a Residence Advisor’s (RA) or SA’s cup in hopes of getting their RA or SA of choice pied in the face. Eshbaugh said he felt a tremendous amount of support from other staff members and residents. Residents from other halls are also encouraged to join the competition, which will last through Friday night.

“I’m trying to figure out a weekend that I can go home because my brothers have been doing a lot of stuff in Houston — driving around a boat, pulling people out of houses,” Eshbaugh added.

Emory’s Office of Government and Community Affairs sent Emory shirts to Houston in response to University of Houston Basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson’s donation request for clean clothing, according to a Sept. 1 tweet from the office. In addition, the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing “has put out a call for support for those affected by Hurricane Harvey’s terrible devastation,” according to Kathryn Kite, the senior associate director and programs administrative director of the Lillian Carter Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility at the nursing school.

As Texas begins the transition from rain and rescue efforts to recovery, Hurricane Irma, a strengthening Category 5 hurricane, moves towards the U.S., including Florida and Puerto Rico, which both declared a state of emergency, according to the Washington Post. Experts predict that its impact could be just as detrimental as Harvey’s. According to an AJC report, Georgia could see effects from Irma as early as next Monday.  

Natalia Brody contributed reporting.

UPDATE (9/7/18 at 2:25 p.m.): The story has been updated to reflect Jessi Grizzard Arnidis’s email statement.