Weathering the Storm: Employees and students at Del Mar College rally to recover from Hurricane Harvey
Article by: Mike Bratten
Residents of South Texas rolled up their sleeves and went into recovery mode immediately after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Gulf Coast on Friday, Aug. 25. The Del Mar College community was no exception.
“This is my job. I’m doing it for the students,” said Charles Miller, Del Mar superintendent of buildings and grounds, who skipped his own retirement reception and postponed his retirement date of Aug. 31 to assist with cleanup and repair efforts.
Miller, one of about 12 Del Mar employees who returned to work soon after the storm passed, found toppled trees and minor damage to about half of the college’s 74 buildings, he said.
Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph winds when it made landfall. Damage was widespread, especially in Rockport, a town about 30 miles from Corpus Christi, where Del Mar College is located. More than 1,700 of the college’s students live in the hardest-hit areas, San Patricio and Aransas counties.
After landfall, Harvey meandered up the coast toward Houston, where it caused severe flooding.
Del Mar’s staff, faculty and students demonstrated resilience during the disaster that became branded “Texas Strong.” But while the college was back up and running within days of the storm, returning to normalcy for some people will be a long-term process.
Del Mar’s executive leadership team decided to delay the start of fall classes to the day after Labor Day, Sept. 5, as Harvey approached the Gulf Coast. Campuses were closed for business on Thursday, Aug. 24, and only essential personnel were allowed to stay as the college’s Hurricane Preparedness and Response Plan went into effect.
The executive team was back on campus on Monday, Aug. 28.
The magnitude of destruction in our neighboring communities is sobering. Del Mar College is committed to doing everything within its authority to provide assistance to our beloved employees and students, however we can.
‘It’s just terrible’
Robert Shannon, a master electrician at Del Mar, left his Rockport home with his wife and dog and evacuated to San Antonio before Harvey hit. They returned to find the home extensively damaged, with most of the roof shingles missing and standing water inside.
“We were lucky,” Shannon said. “There are people in Rockport who don’t have anything left. I drove around over there and it’s just terrible.”
Shannon was back at Del Mar on Aug. 28. He and his coworkers began pumping two and a half feet of water out of the William F. White Jr. Library basement that was coming dangerously close to some electrical equipment.
Shannon slept the next two nights in the college’s Emergency Training Building along with Escamilla, other staff members and first responders from the area.
Moved to help
Transfixed by images of people being rescued from floodwaters in Houston, Danielle Garza and her husband, Ricardo, both Del Mar students, decided to get involved. They hooked up their 14-foot fishing boat, drove to a Northwest Houston suburb and helped with evacuation efforts.
I felt in my heart that I had to help. When you’re looking at it on social media, it seems like it’s easy to get around, but it’s not. It took us five hours just to cover one subdivision.
The college’s assistance efforts took other forms too, some of which are ongoing.
The DMC Foundation established emergency funds to help students affected by the hurricane pay for their education and to aid those in need with food, clothing, temporary shelter, transportation and other essentials.
Donations include a staggering $100,000 from the Coastal Bend Community Foundation (CBCF) through the estate of Olga Doan.
“We’re blessed to have a community partner like the CBCF,” said Mary McQueen, executive director of Development/DMC Foundation. “With these funds, we can help our students move forward with their education and their lives.”
Employees in Del Mar’s Division of Business, Industrial and Public Safety Education began collecting donations of clothing, food and personal hygiene items for those who need them. Others in the division who teach heating, ventilation and air conditioning courses plan to repair air conditioners for needy families free of charge.
Many employees participated in individual cleanup and relief efforts in communities throughout the area. And, in an unprecedented move, Del Mar began adjusting out-of-district and other fees to accommodate students from surrounding communities impacted by Harvey.
“I’m extremely proud of Del Mar College’s response to this crisis,” Escamilla said. “We came together like a family to support each other. Nevertheless, we can’t forget that many people are still recovering from the storm and may be recovering for a long time.”
Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.