Section: News

Impact of hurricane’s destruction felt miles away in Gambier

Members of the Kenyon community braced themselves while watching hurricanes bombard the Caribbean region and southern part of the United States and its territories in recent weeks, worried about friends and family back home.

Isabella Bird-Muñoz ’18 is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 6. At least 61 people have died in total as a result of the storm, including at least eight in the continental United States. Due to Irma, almost 70 percent of households lost electricity and hundreds of residents lost their homes, according to The New York Times.

Bird-Muñoz said their family was safe, although their parents were without power and water for a time, but the electricity has since returned. They said they mostly got the news from their family members at home; American newscasters, they felt, were more focused on when the storm would hit Florida.

“I remember this one newscast where you could see the hurricane right on top of Puerto Rico, and the newscaster was like, ‘It’s a thousand miles from Florida, like what are people doing in Florida to prepare,’” Bird-Muñoz said. “This is just another situation where you see non-global powers get hit first.”

Bird-Muñoz also feels that the storm needs to serve as a wake-up call. “Just the fact that people still doubt that this is in any way still related to climate change is ridiculous,” they said. 

President Decatur said in an interview with the Collegian that College administrators were reaching out to students after Harvey on an individual basis for support, and that he anticipated doing the same for students who were affected by Irma.

“There are emergency funds available for students who may find that they need unexpected expenses or support,” he said.

Decatur said two of his student advisees have family in the Houston area who had been affected. Bonham said that College administrators agreed that targeting students by geographic location may have been too narrow, and Robin Hart Ruthenbeck, dean of students, and Bonham sent out a student-info email explaining the College resources available to the community.   

Mary Angela Ricotta ’20 is from Houston, Texas, which was hit by Hurricane Harvey. Harvey, which the National Hurricane Center listed as a Category 4 storm, made landfall on Aug. 25. Ricotta said that her family was lucky, and that her house had not flooded.  She said Houston was used to some flooding, but the scale was unprecedented.

“A lot of people don’t know this we’re on the bayou, and so when the bayous overflow, typically we’re okay because we’ve got reservoirs and levees,” she said. “This time it was just so much water in such a short period of 48 hours that they just couldn’t handle it, and the rivers that connected to the bayous overflowed. So it was a cycle of just continual flooding as everything tried to drain.”

Juniper Cruz ’19, one of the co-managers of Snowden Multicultural Center, also has family in Puerto Rico. On Aug. 31, during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Cruz announced via email that the residents of Snowden would set out a bin for people to donate products to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Specifically, Cruz asked people to donate diapers, tampons, pads and baby wipes, products that Cruz said often are overlooked during donations for the victims of natural disasters.

Cruz said that she got the idea from her mother during a phone call on Aug. 31. Her mother talked about the fundraisers that she was participating in where the focus was on the donation of food and money, but not on hygiene products that are nearly as essential. Following the conversation, Cruz ran the idea of a donation bin past other Snowden members and set it out the next day.

The bin has remained outside through the events of Hurricane Irma as well. “Obviously, we didn’t predict how many natural disasters would hit,” Cruz said on Wednesday. “But it is really important for us to continue to make a push as a community to help out.” Cruz originally challenged everyone on campus to donate at least one item to the bin, and while students have not yet reached that goal, Cruz reports that a number of people have donated and have been very responsive overall.

Cruz’s donation effort is indicative of a larger movement across Kenyon’s campus. Michael Durham, associate director of counseling services, has made a concerted effort to make the student body aware of counseling as a resource.

In an email to the Collegian, Durham said, “We need to support each other through these tragic events as a caring community of kindness.”

By Gabrielle Healy and Noah Nash

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