As Hurricane Irma takes aim at Florida, Gabby Smith is still thinking about the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Like many of us, Smith spent the last week sifting through videos, photos, news stories and social media posts about the devastation in Texas. But the picture she can’t get forget isn’t one she saw on social media. It’s the image of her grandparents, sitting at their kitchen table, watching as the water began to rise in their house.
“My papa is still in shock after sitting for hours in water, seeing things floating around, waiting to be rescued,” Smith said.
Smith, a native of Bridge City, Texas—located just outside of Beaumont—says both sets of her grandparents had to be rescued from their homes by boat in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Smith’s sister and her family, who only live a street away away from Smith’s parents, also suffered flood damage in her house.
While water rose around their parents’ house, it miraculously never got in.
“I think God really did a cool thing of sparing our house,” Smith said, noting that now her displaced family members have a place to stay. Now, 15 family members and six dogs are staying at Smith’s parents’ house.
Smith headed home to Texas yesterday after class. She and a few friends, along with a small team from her church, Blackman Community Church in Murfreesboro, will spend the weekend ripping out sheetrock and carpet in her grandparents’ homes and those of others devastated by the hurricane.
“We’re going to my grandparents’ houses and are going to gut out everything we can, and my sister’s house,” Smith said. “We just want to help the community in general. I think we’re bringing down too many supplies than needed, but it’s a small-town feel. Once we get done with one thing, we can be helping someone else. There are a lot of elderly people who are just suffering and they can’t do anything about it. It’ll be two short days, but we’ll be working.”
The drive usually takes about 12 hours, but Smith is expecting it to take a little longer, knowing that road conditions may be questionable. They’ll make the return trip on Sunday and be back in class by Monday.
“I was crazy homesick,” Smith said. “I’ve never actually experienced homesickness, even moving away for college, I never had a problem with it until last week.”
The hurricane wasn’t necessarily a surprise to Smith or her family. They’d lived through them before, including Hurricane Ike in 2008. They evacuated then and came home to a house that needed all new dry wall. For Smith, a child at the time, it was an adventure.
“When I was a kid, I thought that stuff was fun, evacuating and staying somewhere else,” she said. “Then we came home and had to clean and gut out our whole house. I guess just the innocence of being a kid and not having a whole lot of fears is a lot different than being 20—I’m just thankful that everyone in my family is alive.”
Smith last visited her family in Texas about three weeks ago. They’d been aware of the possibility of Harvey becoming a hurricane then, but expected to ride it out just fine. Forecasters predicted the storm would make landfall around Corpus Christi—which it did—then move across the state. But it stalled over the Houston area, dropping an estimated 51 inches of rain in a matter of days.
That’s when Smith says she started to get worried.
“My Facebook news feed was full of people from my hometown crying out for help,” she recalled.
By Tuesday, Aug. 29, family members were texting Smith to let her know the water was rising. The next day she learned that one set of grandparents had to be rescued by boat from their attic, while the others—without an attic or higher ground to get to—sat at their table and watched as the items that made their house a home floated on the surface of the water until her dad rescued them.
As she watched the news and received periodic updates from her family, Smith says she felt helpless, anxious even.
“You are just in a constant state of ‘what’s next,’” Smith said. “I was in fear. I’ve never really felt helpless or really worried. I feel like I’ve finally encountered worry at its fullest. It’s one of those moments where you feel like you just want to suffer with someone. Being away, you just want to feel the same way that they feel.”
After a few days of this, she started to open up to friends and classmates and let them know what was happening at home, what had happened with her grandparents.
“I started sharing about my grandparents and asking people to pray,” she said. “People started contacting me wanting to know what they could do and letting me know they were praying. Last night, someone I’ve never met came up to me and asked how my family was. It’s definitely the church at its finest.”
Smith knows that just because the rain has stopped and the water has receded, things won’t immediately go back to normal. Many of those affected—including her family members—don’t have flood insurance, which will make rebuilding more difficult. “We’ll work on that,” she says.
For Smith, Trevecca was more than a university last week. As people surrounded her in prayer and support, it became more like a family.
“There was definitely a lot of fear last week,” she said. “But at the same time, I felt a lot of peace because of the people here and Trevecca’s community.”
All she can say, she says, is thank you.
“Thank you,” Smith said. “Those two simple words embrace it all: the thankfulness and the peace in the storm and seeing the exact representation of the love of Christ in this community.”
Across the Trevecca community, students, faculty and staff are coming together to find ways to support and help those affected by Hurricane Harvey as well as those who live in the path of Irma. These efforts include:
- SGA will be hosting an improv event, “Yes, That’s Great” tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Benson Auditorium and collecting donations for Houston Flood Relief. Contact Abi Larimore at email@example.com or 814-691-0447.
- Trevecca’s athletic department, led by baseball coach Ryan Schmalz, collected items requested by University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson to send to those affected. Many of Trevecca’s athletic teams participated in the effort.
- The Salvation Army is very active in the response. Curtis Elliott, a researcher in The Salvation Army Social Justice Research Center located on Trevecca’s campus, said they will be seeking to involve students in a combination of community learning initiatives, work projects and research projects that have the potential to span many months of recovery and rebuilding.
- Matt Spraker, assistant dean of students, is in the beginning stages of planning a fall break trip to Houston so that students can help in the aftermath. This will be in conjunction with Nazarene relief efforts in the area.
- Residence directors are working with students who live in Trevecca’s residence halls to pack crisis kits for those affected in Houston and Florida.
- A special offering will be taken during chapel services on Tuesday to help hurricane relief efforts.
You can give to the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries relief effort at give.nazarene.org.