Scenes of Hurricane Harvey ‘unbelievable’ to students from Houston area

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WKRN (ABC): At least 23 students at Lipscomb University impacted by Harvey

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With scenes of flooding and devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Harvey with heavy rains expected to fall for several more days headlining the news, a number of students, faculty and staff are watching with keen interest to catch a glimpse of their hometowns to see the impact on loved ones in the area.

According to weather.com, Harvey has set a preliminary Lower 48 U.S. rainfall record for any tropical storm or hurricane as it continues to soak the upper Texas coast and Louisiana, worsening record-breaking, catastrophic flooding. A rainfall of  51.88 inches had been recorded through 3 p.m. CDT Tuesday. That total is expected to climb as rainfall is predicted to continue for several more days.

It is particularly concerning to students who are hundreds of miles away from their homes in the Gulf Coast region of Texas — particularly the Houston area. This fall, 23 students from that area are enrolled at Lipscomb.

Simon Holden, a freshman from Spring, Texas, says the situation is “heartbreaking.” His parents and three siblings have evacuated their home and are staying in a hotel. He says there is currently two feet of water in the house that has been his home for most of his life.

“It’s very sad … it’s heartbreaking,” says Holden, who is a member of the men’s soccer team. “It’s hard being so far away. It’s heartbreaking to see a city you’ve grown up in destroyed. It’s pretty tough to focus in class right now.”

Holden’s sister, Brianna, sent him a video she took with her phone as the family evacuated their home. (See video at right.) He says it was difficult to watch, but that he is thankful his family is safe. He is also hopeful that some of the family belongings located on the second floor of his house will remain unharmed.

He says he likely will not be able to go home to see the aftermath first-hand until Thanksgiving break since soccer season is in full swing.

Arden Whitehurst is thankful that her family is safe.

“I believe my city of Corpus Christi, which means body of Christ, was protected mightily this past weekend,” she says. “My family and home have been spared. We live a couple streets from the bay front, so when I heard about the 12-foot surges and wind speeds I thought for sure my home would be flooded. We have experienced flooding before due to extreme rains, but this was different.”

The Whitehursts only sustained damage to their yard, porch and fence. But Whitehurst said her father’s billboard company, which had more than 500 billboards in the area, was not so fortunate.

“Despite slashing all of their billboards beforehand, they have still experienced incredible damage and loss. Billboards are uninsured,” Whitehurst shares. “They have estimated a million dollars worth of damage. It is expected to take a year to rebuild everything and get the business up and running again. This is obviously a huge setback and stress for him and our family.”

In addition, Whitehurst’s family has been without power since Aug. 25.

Being so far away from her family during the storm has been tough on Whitehurst.

“Honestly, it was terrifying. I was hearing all of these news and weather updates and knew that my dad, grandparents, aunts were right there in the middle of a Category 4 hurricane, something that can easily kill and destroy,” she recalls.

Her mother and two siblings evacuated, but her dad stayed behind to board up the home and to take care of his parents.

“I was shaking and near tears or crying at some points all night. I was up until 4 a.m. Friday watching the news, praying, talking to my mom, trying to figure out what all was happening,” she says. “Even since the hurricane passed, it's hard to not be with my loved ones, experiencing what they're experiencing and seeing things first- hand. Corpus is my home and to know that so many loved ones were in danger was terrifying. By the time Sunday came around, I was drained from all of the emotions, stress and fear. “

“All I wanted was to go home and be with them, which was perfect, because I had scheduled a trip home for Labor Day back in June, but as of Tuesday my flights were cancelled due to weather, flooding and damage. Now I will not be able to see my family until Thanksgiving which will be six months since I was home and saw them.” 

But Whitehurst is keeping a positive outlook.

“Overall, the damage is great, but it could have been worse. My family is fine and we are all thanking God for His presence WITH us through this storm and are trusting that He will provide in these coming months,” she says. “I have been amazed and humbled by the love my Lipscomb family and friends have shown me. This is one of the many reasons I love Lipscomb.”

Tori Smith, an undergraduate student from Corpus Christi, says she grew up seeing tropical storms. But a hurricane is something she wasn’t prepared for.

“My hometown is Corpus Christi, Padre Island. This first started out as a tropical storm which is normal so see from time to time, living on the coast,” says Smith. “But it was very devastating to hear that we would be hit by a hurricane.”

She says her family’s house is “pretty damaged from the hurricane but my family made it out soon enough before the hurricane hit.”

Smith has been able to contact her parents and talk to them about their experience.

“I was also consistently watching the news, and saw there was a house fire two streets down from mine,” she said. “But firefighters were able to control it, so it didn't keep spreading. It's very hard to watch my family go through this since I'm not able to be there for them.”

“It's sad to see the house I grew up in a little battered,” she continues, “but everyone is being really calm about it and knowing that God will take care of us.”

Zachary McCartney is a graduate student in one of Lipscomb’s online cohort programs. He lives in College Station, Texas, about an hour outside of Houston, where he says more than 20 inches of rain fell resulting in moderate flooding.

“My parents live in Houston and are in the center of the worst weather,” says McCartney. “My parents currently are trapped in their subdivision. Their home is currently dry, but there is no way for them to drive out of where they are, luckily they stocked up on food and such, so they are doing well.”  

McCartney says it is “surreal seeing places I am very familiar with covered with water and people I know displaced.”

“As a Texan I feel an acute desire to help my fellow Texans, I hurt for their losses and am eager to find opportunities to show the love of Christ,” he says.

harvey_1Megan Sullivan agrees that the massive flooding is difficult to comprehend.

“It’s really hard to believe. It’s so devastating. I can’t believe this is really happening,” says Sullivan, a sophomore from Cyprus, Texas, and a member of the volleyball team. “The not knowing is hard. But seeing the water rising on TV is just a stressful.”

“I feel helpless. There’s nothing I can do to change what’s happened, and I can’t be there to help,” she says.

Sullivan says damage to her father’s house included a leaking roof and standing water in the garage. She says he evacuated, so the current state of his home is unknown. Her mother’s residence fared better. But she does know that her family is safe.

Sullivan is also worried about her former teammates on the University of Houston volleyball team.

“I transferred to Lipscomb, but stay in touch with my teammates in Houston,” says Sullivan, who says she likely won’t return home until December due to probably Atlantic Sun volleyball playoffs. “Many of them had to evacuate. It’s just sad to see all of the families that are affected.”

Although the last few days have been difficult for Sullivan, she says the “community I’m surrounded with here is incredible.”

harvey_2Teammate Maddie Phillips, a sophomore from Houston, says her home remains undamaged, but that the neighborhood where she grew up “is mostly underwater.” “It’s catastrophic,” she says.

Phillips also says she has a feeling of “helplessness” as she see scenes from home on the news and on social media.

“It’s a feeling of disbelief when I see the images and videos,” she says. “Seeing people rescued in boats and the water, it’s unbelievable. But I have a great community around me … my teammates, my professors. Everyone here has been so supportive.”

When Harvey hit, Phillips’ family was in Nashville watching her in a volleyball tournament over the weekend. They left for Houston Tuesday.

Although Phillips is deeply touched by the devastation, she is trying to find positives in the storm.

“My heart goes out to everyone in that area who are going through this,” she says. “It’s very sad to see. I think Texas is the greatest state. It will always be my home, and Houston is a very motivated city. We will come back stronger than ever.”

“Not to say this has happened for this reason,” Phillips continued, “but I think that our country is going through a time of lots of different struggles politically. Going through this tragedy I think is going to show that especially in the South it’s going to show how people regardless of their background or beliefs will come together to show how they are there for their neighbor. I think this is really what our country needs to see right now — people coming together.”

Scott McDowell, senior vice president of student life, and the Student Life team has been in contact with each of the students from the southeast Texas region to learn more about how this storm has impacted their families and to provide comfort and support.

He says that a planning team, led by Lipscomb President L. Randolph Lowry, is meeting daily for the near future to develop plans for reaching out to and serving the areas hardest hit.

“This is a community that comes together and wants to serve at times like this,” says McDowell. “Right now, the event is still ongoing, and it’s difficult to know how to help in a meaningful way in this moment. But we have a team that is reaching out to schools and churches in the area to determine need. As relief strategies develop we will keep the Lipscomb community informed of ways they can help.”

On campus resources that may be helpful to students and their families include: