While most students on Penn's campus spent last week fretting over classes and attending back-to-school parties, College senior Anuj Amin was watching a live feed of helicopters flying over his entirely flooded hometown.
Amin is from Port Neches, Texas, one of the areas that has been hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. According to a statement from Penn administrators, more than 600 students at the University are residents of impacted areas.
“I’ve never in my entire life seen anything like this. I’ve lived through Rita and Katrina. Hurricanes are normal; I grew up with them. When you’re little, it’s even fun. You get school off, it’s like a party,” Amin said. “This feels like a sick joke — it turned so bad so fast, and so many people lost their lives."
"Today marks the fourth day my city doesn’t have clean water or electricity,” he added on Sept. 3.
In the past week, Amin has heard from friends whose homes had flooded with over five feet of water. His friend's mother almost died in the few seconds after water rushed into their house, and one of his father’s coworkers sacrificed her life to save her toddler.
“I’ve never felt this way. It’s just terror and fear and sadness,” Amin said. “Here in Philadelphia the sun is shining, but back home people are legitimately drowning to save their children.”
Amin said it has been incredibly difficult to see his hometown deal with the aftermath of flooding. Residents have had to grapple with complete darkness at night, a horrible stench of garbage as well as the looming fear that the oil fields that his area is known for could become toxic or flammable.
Amin isn't the only Penn student who has been watching their hometown on the news.
“I was in Houston this summer and it was crazy seeing on the Internet the before and after pictures of these parks where we were,” Wharton sophomore and Houston resident Hannah Le said. Le said she counts herself lucky since her elevated house saved her family from suffering severe damage.
Le managed to leave home for Penn a day before the hurricane hit, but said it has been difficult to watch her home from over 1,500 miles away.
“There was one night [of NSO] I had two phones out checking the weather in full-out hurricane mode,” Le said, of what she described as a stressful return back to school. “It’s surreal. This is my city; this is where I’m from.”
College senior Helen Nie grew up in the Netherlands, but moved to Houston this summer with her parents. They were staying in a temporary house before their permanent one was ready, but the hurricane forced her parents to abandon the house and relocate due to flooding.
“They were supposed to get their move-in shipment [from the Netherlands] yesterday, but now it’s not going to get there until September 6,” Nie said.
Basic concerns like food and water have also been concerns for her parents, who have filled up the bath to use as a water source, in case the hurricane cuts off water from Houston's water towers.
Many students at Penn have friends stuck in Houston, who have reported back of their kayaking experiences down one of the main highways in the city.
Amin noted, too, that although the hurricane has shown the strength of his community, he knows the hurricane is something both he and his home will be coping with for years to come.
“My home will legitimately never be the same," Amin said. "Every time I go back I will always see the scars of this hurricane.”
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