Broken branches, abandoned bicycles and debris filled the streets of southeastern Texas, a sign of the destruction that had taken place just hours earlier.
Claire Stevens ’16 watched the mess swirl through Rice University from her second story window, filled with panic and apprehension for the future that lay ahead.
“We were in constant fear of flooding and tornados,” Stevens said. “There were thunderstorms that sounded like fire-fights. It felt pretty helpless.”
Hurricane Harvey, a level four hurricane turned tropical storm, hit Texas on Aug. 25, flooding the area and leaving its population reeling from the effects.
According to CNN, the 27 trillion gallons of rain that poured down created an estimated loss of more than $75 billion. The hurricane also claimed at least 60 lives.
When news of the hurricane broke, alumni said that, despite the news reports and weather warnings, they were shocked.
Michael Kezirian ’85 was conducting experiments for the Solar Eclipse with his graduate students in Idaho Falls when he first saw news reports of the approaching storm. Although the reports expressed the potential for disaster, Kezirian said he was not expecting such catastrophic results.
“Most of the time, these alerts are false alarms,” Kezirian said. “The magnitude dies out or the trajectories divert with time. But the projection for this storm just continued to get worse as it approached landfall in Texas.”
Kezirian said that this sense of disbelief continued when he returned to his hometown of Seabrook, Texas, and watched the rush of water drown out the familiarities of his town.
“It was unreal,” Kezirian said. “In many ways, it looked so foreign. Like the tsunami in Japan, disbelief made it seem like a world away. You know you are watching live action from a few miles away, but instead, you are thinking the images are from past events or from halfway around the world.”
Stevens said that the hurricane has served as a reminder of the spontaneity of disaster and has instilled a renewed sense of gratitude within her.
“You can’t predict what life is going to throw at you,” Stevens said. “You just have to value everything and every person you have in your life.”
For Kezirian, the disaster has shown that a city can never truly be prepared for a trauma this great.
“[Hurricane Harvey] has reinforced how fragile we are,” Kezirian said. “A large storm can come out of nowhere and turn your life upside down.”
The hurricane’s effects have extended beyond the borders of Texas and impacted current students.
Anna Belle Baley ’19, who moved from Houston just a few months ago, has watched her friends suffer through flooding and evacuations. She said that the hurricane instilled a sense of panic within her and caused her to feel an overwhelming love and appreciation for her birthplace.
“I felt like my entire childhood had been obliterated,” Baley said. “I feel a sense of community and understanding with the rest of the city, and this has made me take more pride in being born there.”
Citizens in Houston and the surrounding areas have embraced their community and come together in the face of this tragedy to support one another and help pave the path to recovery. The outpouring of individuals willing to help affected families was so great that volunteers were eventually turned away and told they were no longer needed.
“Texas doesn’t mess around,” Stevens said. “Everyone was using all of their resources to help others in any way they could. People are so compassionate and so willing to make sacrifices for others.”
Through the Chabad at Rice University, Stevens and her friend were able to assist a family of six in their home, which had flooded. Stevens said that as she waded past the destroyed family pictures and heirlooms floating throughout the home, she was once again reminded of the devastation that the hurricane caused.
“Their lives were completely uprooted and swept away,” Stevens said. “It made me realize how horrible and widespread the damage from Harvey really is. Rice was so lucky. My only inconvenience was that I had to eat less food, whereas these people had their home taken away from them in two days.”
Despite all of the damage that the hurricane has caused, Kezirian said that the city has tried to remain positive and that the immense amount of support that has risen from various communities has given him new hope for the future.
“In the face of this immense tragedy, we have seen the tenacity and ingenuity of the human spirit,” Kezirian said. “Everyone has come together to help those in need [and] support one another.”