Featured, On Campus

Making sense of Harvey, What the hurricane means for our HBS community

Robert Carpenter, Contributor

I recently saw a photo of my favorite Houston street art. On the side of a bridge that carries trains over interstate highway 45, big block letters remind drivers, “Be Someone.”

I’ve probably read these words hundreds of times, but as of August 27, “Be Someone” doesn’t challenge drivers any more. The highway lies under what looks like 10 feet of water.

It’s easy to grow desensitized to the words describing Hurricane Harvey, even for those of us who come from that part of the world. “Catastrophic,” “worst in history,” “unprecedented.” I personally find it difficult to reconcile the beautiful weather in Boston with the images I see coming out of Texas. My worlds don’t match up.

Many of HBS’ Texas students watched from afar as Harvey developed. The Category 4 hurricane with 130-mile-per-hour winds made landfall on August 25, hitting coastal communities such as Rockport and Corpus Christi. Roofless buildings, inundated neighborhoods, sunken boats, and downed power lines testify to the awesome and destructive power of the storm.

This initial impact was terrible but certainly not “unprecedented.” Hurricanes Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2008 were of similar raw power, destroying Texas communities, claiming and interrupting lives, and leaving behind tens of billions of dollars in damage and years of recovery work.

Harvey was heir to this terrible legacy. And things got worse.

As Harvey weakened, he slowed his march North. The tropical storm sat along the Texas coast, emptying his unending moisture on the city of Houston day after day while refueling from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s when you started to hear the word “unprecedented.”

The flooding catastrophe in Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, has unraveled in slow motion. As of this writing, parts of Houston have received well over 30 inches of rain in less than three days, with 10 more inches expected. Harvey has overwhelmed infrastructure that was designed to withstand hurricanes – inundating neighborhoods and upending lives in the process.

When the rain finally abates, the question facing millions in South Texas seems overwhelming: What now?

Soberly assessing the situation, HBS is far enough away that we could write this off as someone else’s problem. Few will notice if we don’t respond compassionately, and, quite frankly, few may notice if we do. But like any worthwhile charity, we should respond not because we have to, nor because others expect us to, but because we can.

As the extent of the damage becomes more apparent, HBS can model compassion first to those close to us who have been affected, caring for the needs of students and others directly impacted by the storm.

There is also immediate need for financial support of relief efforts, including donations to deserving organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Houston Food Bank, and the Salvation Army.

I was heartened to see the Texas Club and the Student Association, working with administrators, exploring ways to provide what relief might be possible from Boston. Watch for opportunities as these plans take shape, or reach out to help lead them.

In the months and years ahead, south Texas will need help. HBS responded magnanimously following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in previous years. We can honor and uphold this legacy by doing so again in the wake of Harvey.

Robert Carpenter (HBS ’18) worked in strategy consulting in Houston, Texas, before starting at Harvard. He previously attended Texas A&M University, where he was editor in chief of the student publication, The Battalion. Robert is a fan of racquet sports, ice cream, and Calvin and Hobbes.

September 7, 2017
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