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U.Va. students share stories of Hurricane Harvey’s impact

Storm damage spurs student-led relief efforts

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many in the University community are processing the damage inflicted on their hometowns in Texas and the harrowing experience their families went through. 

Kendall Masterson, third-year Nursing student  and Houston native, said that although her house and family are safe, it was frightening to hear about the devastation and danger in her hometown.  

“My parents both drove cars halfway to San Antonio where my uncle picked them up,” Masterson said. “My mom said that her car was hydroplaning with rivers all around the sides of the car.”

Masterson said her home escaped the flooding by about five inches, but her next-door neighbors and others on her street’s homes were destroyed by the flooding. 

“My house and my grandparents’ house across the street had water just a few inches away, but the ones next to us all the way down got flooded — it's like that in a lot of neighborhoods,” Masterson said. “There are just thousands of people displaced, and many people were barely getting by and now are having to live out of shelters.”

Margaret O’Donnell, a second-year College student who is also a Houston native, said the most frightening aspect of learning about the storm was seeing updates through the media and Facebook posts of those calling for help. 

“I was getting quicker and more frightening updates from the media, rather than my family — mostly because my family was okay, so they weren’t filling me in,” O’Donnell said. 

Like Masterson, O’Donnell said her home was safe, but her neighbors experienced severe flooding. Despite this, O’Donnell said it has been inspiring to see people come together and support one another — both in Houston and here at the University.

“I think they know it’s going to be a slow process to rebuild, but [it’s] also so beautiful to see everyone who’s okay in the neighborhood gathering together,” O’Donnell said. 

Dean of Students Allen Groves and Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, both sent out email messages last week to University students from Texas offering support and for students impacted by the hurricane. 

“I was really impressed by the University’s messages to show support to students,” O’Donnell said. “Several of my professors addressed it at the beginning of class last week … [and] people have been so thoughtful.”

Masterson said she also has been encouraged by the outpour of support from the University community and urged other students to show their support either through relief efforts or by reaching out to a student from an area affected by Hurricane Harvey. 

“I think there will be service trips planned, like there were for Katrina in New Orleans, so it’d be cool to see if ASB goes one year,” Masterson said. “I know I got a lot of encouraging texts and hugs this week, so that’s a small thing anyone can do.”

Four HackCville students organized a t-shirt relief effort called #HoosforHouston to raise money for those impacted and empower other students to take action. 

Third-year College student Thomas Casey said he and three other students — second-year Engineering student Johnny Choi, second-year College student Nathan Shirley and first-year College student Matthew Quan — decided to sell t-shirts for the cause after their HackCville Entrepreneurship instructor gave everyone in the class 30 hours to sell as many shirts as possible. 

Casey, who is a San Antonio native, said he was discussing the hurricane with a classmate, and he realized their assigned project could make an impact for those impacted by Harvey. 

“Numerous family members that I know have been severely affected, and so that was the common thread that everyone can connect with,” Casey said. “We really want to make sure [the University] as well as those in Houston and everyone affected by Harvey know that [the University] community as a whole has your back.”

Casey said encouraging students to feel empowered to show support or affect change in whatever way they could is part of the mission of the t-shirt and #HoosforHouston effort. 

“So many people get caught up in thinking they can’t help because they don’t have money to donate, but we’re trying to make people our age feel like they can make a difference — [it] doesn't necessarily have to be a big one, but it can be a step in the right direction,” Casey said.