Anxious About Harvey, Dallas Parents Track College Students in Houston

As Harvey rages across South Texas, college life has been put on hold for thousands of students enrolled in universities across the Houston area. And in North Texas, anxious parents have been tracking the storm, sending emails, checking social media and making calls to their children.

For Robin LaBounty, 48, those calls are vital. Her son Gabe LaBounty, 20, a junior at the University of Houston, and his younger sister Olivia, a freshman at Texas State University in San Marcos, have been feeling the effects of Harvey.

Robin, who’s been keeping track of Harvey from Plano, finds checking in with her kids to be the closest thing to relief right now. “The only thing we can do is keep in contact,” she says. “That’s the one thing that makes me feel better: just keep in contact. When the contact goes away for a little bit, that’s when parents worry.”

Robin LaBounty holds photos of her son, Gabe LaBounty, 20, who is a student at the University of Houston, and her daughter Olivia LaBounty, 18, who is a student at Texas State University. Both of her children’s classes have been delayed because of Hurricane Harvey.

Friends and relatives from across the country have also been in contact, reaching out to Robin after seeing images of devastation on their TV screens. While the situation is relatively safe at both campuses, she’s been reassured by the outpouring of concern and support.

“It’s really helped, knowing other people are thinking of their safety, too,” she says.

Gabe’s been a student in Houston for two years and has seen some flooding and storms in the area. But this time around, he noticed something was different. There was something in the air — or rather, there wasn’t. “I was walking out to my friend’s car and he said, ‘You feel that? There’s no more humidity,’” Gabe recalls. “All the humidity left before the storms.”

“That’s when I knew something was wrong,” he adds.

This was on Thursday. He recalls heavy rains starting up on his way home from work at the campus religion center on Friday afternoon. The campus had yet to be hit by heavy floods until Saturday night, when the Bayou Oaks townhouses — the University of Houston’s Greek Life housing — began flooding well into Sunday morning.

“No one had really seen a flood [on campus] yet until the Bayou,” Gabe says. “My friend was evacuated out of the Bayou at 9:30 a.m. [Sunday], but even up to last night [Saturday] he was saying he’d stay in the Bayou because he thought it would be safer than leaving.”

From his dorm room, Gabe has remained connected with UH and the greater Houston area via social media and news reports. His spare time has alternated among Netflix, weather updates and calls from home.

Hilda Brewer, 60, of Dallas has been in constant contact with her son, Matthew, 18, who recently graduated from Jesuit College Preparatory School in Dallas and is a freshman at Rice University this year.

“It’s still a little nerve-racking to just sit here and take in the information secondhand. … Seeing it on TV, you’re trying not to continuously call or text,” says Hilda.

The Rice administration has encouraged students to remain indoors for the duration of the storm — classes have been canceled through Tuesday, although that could be extended. Hilda’s been using the school’s Facebook page, along with email updates, to keep track of Rice during the storm. Sometimes, it’s even more effective than hearing from her son directly.

“From what I’ve read, a lot of parents aren’t hearing much from their kids, and I’m wondering if it’s a different perspective,” she says. “We’re seeing all this devastation on TV, but I don’t know if he’s seeing it.”

Hilda Brewer holds a portrait of her son Matthew Brewer, a freshman caught in Harvey at Rice University in Houston. Matthew weathered Harvey unharmed and safe on the Rice campus.

Hilda thinks that students are able to distance themselves from the situation since Rice has yet to be seriously damaged or flooded in the wake of the storm. She’s heard of students working around campus to help flood-proof the buildings and protect the school.

Matthew says he’s well aware of how serious the situation is. It took on new meaning when he stopped by a Target to pick up food and supplies ahead of the weekend. Bare essentials — bottled water, peanut butter, bread — were all out of stock.

“In Dallas, we don’t get big weather events like this, except for maybe the occasional tornado,” Matthew says. “It’s rare to see shelves so depleted.”

“We feel like if you were going to be in Houston, Rice is the safest place to be,” says Ken Koonce, 53, of Dallas. His daughter, Nicole, 20, is a sophomore at the university. “My concern is more long-term — if things get worse, if the campus becomes a little island in the flooded city, the question becomes how to get her out of there. We don’t have an answer to that question right now.”

Nicole and her fellow dorm-mates in Will Rice College have contingency plans in place for potential flooding or tornadoes — grab valuables, head to the second floor, and hang tight in hallways away from windows. She’s used social media to update family and friends on the situation, checking in on Facebook and posting on Snapchat.

But Nicole has also taken this time off of school to sleep in, catch up on work, and hang out with friends — in other words, to be a college student.

“It feels like everyone’s pretty chill,” she says. “We’ve been hanging out, doing work. … A group of us watched a horror movie last night. It was raining and thundering, which made the whole thing scarier.”

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