Hurricane Harvey: Kent State Students Share Stories of Survival, Triumph, Defeat

While the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey was a distant disaster for many, the storm touched the lives and families of numerous Kent State University students studying on the Kent Campus and online from their Texas homes. Here are a few of their stories:

Kathryn Owens - Port Arthur, Texas - Graduate Student in Kent State University's College of the Arts

On the night that Hurricane Harvey made landfall, Kathryn Owens, of Port Arthur, Texas, and her fiancé Caleb Frost, decided to have a little fun. The couple threw a “hurricane party” and invited two friends to their third-floor apartment to eat gumbo. Little did they know that their friends would be trapped with them for three days, the building surrounded by five feet of water.

“No one thought it would be like this,” Owens says. “We were eating gumbo, and the water just kept rising. It wasn’t fun anymore. Thankfully, we were on the third floor.”

While they were trapped, Owens and Frost watched as their cars floated around the parking lot. Owens’ car window rolled down by itself, while Frost’s car horn and lights activated spontaneously. Owens says she felt helpless because there was nothing she could do but wait until the water receded.

Owens is the director of choirs in a small school district where the elementary and intermediate schools were damaged in the flood, delaying school from Aug. 28 until Sept. 18, while students are relocated to the high school.

As for Owens’ studies, it has been a struggle to keep up because the disaster has been overwhelming. Once the water had drained a bit outside the apartment, management asked the residents to evacuate for two days while the electricity was turned off. Owens could not bear to leave her pet bird Link or her computer, so she and Frost walked through waist-high water carrying Link and two laptops.

“We had to walk a block to where someone (in a car) could pick us up,” Owens says. “The water was gross too.”

When all was said and done, Owens lost her car, a little red 2012 Honda CRZ. Frost’s car was destroyed too. This week, Owens was able to buy a bright blue 2017 Ford Escape using some dealership incentives.

“Things can be replaced,” she says. “People can’t.”

Johnathan Nolan - Near Beaumont, Texas - Senior in Kent State University's College of Education, Health and Human Services

It was only a month ago when Johnathan Nolan was living with his parents in the Beaumont-Port Arthur area of Texas that was hit by Hurricane Harvey. Now his mother and step-father, Jennifer and Steve Cumbie, and brother, Chad Nolan, 33, cannot return to their home because it has been ravaged by flood damage.

Nolan’s parents were more fortunate than many – they were able to evacuate their home on their own two days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, and they haven’t been back since then.

“My parents lost their home and one vehicle,” says Nolan, who is commuting to Kent State from Akron. “There was 45-50 inches of rain in that area alone. I told them ‘I’m glad you got out when you did.’”

When Nolan called home last week to check up on his parents, he was shocked to hear that his brother Chad almost drowned as he tried to swim to his parents’ house after he was kicked out of the house of some folks he had helped move.

Nolan says he had never been to Kent before, but he likes it and plans on putting down roots here. He previously attended another university, but he says Kent State has been most accommodating in helping him reach his career goals. Nolan says he is totally blind.

As with many natural disasters, displays of kindness have been abundant. Nolan hopes that the goodwill continues long after the disaster ends.

“The saddest thing about this is that it takes a natural disaster like this to bring the world together,” Nolan says. “When the sun shines again, I’m just hoping we don’t forget who we are as a people.”

April Poulard - Beaumont, Texas - Freshman in Kent State University's College of Public Health

April Poulard’s hometown of Beaumont, Texas, escaped much of the damage from Hurricane Harvey that ravaged the Houston area. Two weeks of no water, however, was beginning to take its toll, Poulard says.

Poulard is majoring in public health, taking all of her coursework online from her Texas home, about one-hour east of Houston.

“I’m still here in the middle of it all,” she said in a phone interview on Sept. 5.

Beaumont, for the most part, did not sustain the severe flooding that took place closer to Houston.

“We’ve had a lot of rain and wind,” she says. “People in lower lying areas of town had to be evacuated.”

The pump station that takes water from the Neches River and sends it to the city’s water treatment plant for conversion to drinking water had been offline until Sept. 7, leaving the town with no water for drinking or washing. The community remains under a boil alert while the water is tested for safety.

“I do have electric, it never went out,” she says, noting that 1,800 residents of the community were without power.

The storm has provided Poulard with a first-hand example of how relevant her major is for a community, as issues of E. coli bacteria contamination become a concern for many who were flooded.

Poulard says she selected the Kent State program because not only could she take all of her coursework online in Texas, but it was the only online degree program certified by the Council on Education for Public Health.

Poulard says the staff from Kent State have been extremely helpful, checking in to make sure she is okay and able to conduct her studies. Lack of mail delivery made it difficult for Poulard to obtain her needed textbooks on time.

“My professors have been so great,” she says.

Ali Arif - Kingwood, Texas - Freshman in Kent State University's College of Arts and Sciences

While Hurricane Harvey was causing massive flooding in his hometown of Kingwood, Texas, Kent State University freshman Ali Arif says he was consoled by the fact that he never lost contact with his family.

“I knew my family was safe,” the 18-year-old says. “We were always able to stay in touch.”

Their home, however, suffered severe damage.

Arif’s mother, Humara Gull, in a telephone interview, explains that all 50 homes in their neighborhood suffered massive damage.

“The first floor is gone,” Gull says, “We’re just trying to save what we can.”

The family also lost four cars.

Arif says his family has lived in Texas for more than 10 years and had lived through hurricanes before.

This time, the high winds from the hurricane didn’t  cause so much damage; rather four days of constant rain caused rivers, streams and creeks to surge to record levels and create widespread flooding.

Arif tried to make it home Labor Day weekend, but was unable to secure a flight. At this point, the integrated life sciences major hopes to return home in December.

Gull and her two younger children, ages 16 and 8, are living in a hotel for now, while she works to secure an apartment. Because their schools were destroyed, younger children will have to attend schools that are about 30 minutes away from Kingwood, Gull says, explaining that she might explore the possibility of online schooling for them for the short-term.

It will be six months to one year before the family’s home is habitable again. Gull’s office had minor damage, taking in only one inch of water. She hopes to be able to go back to work soon, so the family’s lives can begin to return to some type of normal routine.

When it comes to helping Harvey victims, Arif says the need will vary from person to person, so those who want to help just need to offer it.

“Definitely reach out to people,” he says. “Reaching out is a good first step, at least.”

When asked what her family needed, Gull replied, “Prayers, I guess, and the strength to get through this.”

Zaniesha Baylor - Houston, Texas - Sophomore in Kent State University’s University College

For two years, Zaniesha Baylor had dreamed of attending Kent State University’s Fashion School, and this time she came closer to realizing her dream when she transferred from Houston Community College.

But the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey turned Baylor’s dream into a nightmare. The water damaged her computers, books and all of her family’s household items on the first floor of their home.

Baylor’s dream of attending Kent State has been dashed by the harsh reality that she has no funding to replace her computers, books and supplies.

“Kent was my dream school,” Baylor says. “I was so excited to get accepted. It has been my goal for two years.”

Baylor and her family evacuated their home on Aug. 26 and went to a hotel in Brenham, Texas.

“We got out on our own, thank God,’” she says. “When we returned, we saw the damage that was done. The front door had been blown open. But the second floor was okay.”

Baylor, her mother, Terina, and brother, Larry, are now living with friends in Brenham, Texas, waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get back with them about disaster assistance.

Baylor plans to enroll in a college in her area. But for now, college will have to wait.

Read: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma Turn Into Real-life Teaching Lessons in the Classroom

POSTED: Friday, September 15, 2017 03:25 PM
Updated: Thursday, December 8, 2022 11:12 PM
April McCellan-Copeland and Lisa Abraham