For some CHS students, recent hurricanes hit close to home


Courtesy of the Eckelberg Family

Cleveland alum Han Eckelberg, left, seeks cover in a closet with his grandmother, Jean, during Hurricane Irma. Han is the brother of Wen Eckelberg, a sophomore at CHS. Wen’s brother and dad were stranded in Lakeland, Fla., for days after the hurricane hit the Sunshine State.

Molly House, Staff Reporter

Junior Yasmin Betancourt’s family is no stranger to hurricanes. After surviving Katrina, a Category 5 storm that devastated New Orleans in 2005, Betancourt’s extended family is now working to overcome flooding in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The storm left her family’s beloved home in Puerto Rico in ruins.

Hearing about Irma’s destructive path through Miami and Orlando brought back painful memories for Betancourt. After Hurricane Katrina devastated her home in the Big Easy, her family’s evacuation to Houston was a difficult transition.

“I remember going to school in Houston and usually you have to pay for a uniform, but they gave me mine [for] free because we lost everything,” Betancourt said. “We’re really used to it because this happens a lot in the South.”

Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest storms on record, killing 1,833 people with winds up to 174 miles per hour. Betancourt was five years old.

“We lost everything,” Betancourt said. “I lived through Hurricane Katrina.”

Hurricane Irma’s path narrowly missed Betancourt’s grandparents and other relatives in Florida, but still hit them with force as the area around them flooded.

“It was still really scary,” Betancourt said. Fortunately, her grandparents didn’t lose everything this time around.

Betancourt wasn’t the only student who feared for her family’s safety during the series of hurricanes that threatened much of the East and Gulf coasts. Just days before Hurricane Irma, sophomore Avery Brown’s grandparents were in Houston watching the skies darken and the rain pour down in sheets from Hurricane Harvey. The storm killed 83 people, destroyed at least 100,000 homes, and displaced over 30,000 people in Texas and Louisiana.

“I do have a lot of family down there, so it made me worried,” Brown said. Luckily, his family wasn’t in the middle of the storm.

“Once the floods started getting near them, they were like, ‘Oh, we should probably get out of here,’” he said.

Brown recalled fearing for the lives of his family in Houston but wasn’t able to contact them because phone lines were down. His family eventually found safety in Dallas.

With hurricanes causing unpredictable weather patterns in the south and along the East Coast, Seattleites with family members in those areas could do nothing more than wait for word from their loved ones. For sophomore Wen Eckelberg, the worry doubled after her father and brother left for Lakeland, Fla., to look after her aging grandparents as Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the Sunshine State. Eckelberg’s grandfather is in poor health and needed help buying food and water before the storm became too severe.

“It’s a good thing that my dad and brother were there,” Eckelberg said. “I can’t even imagine if they were just there by themselves.”

The entire area around Eckelberg’s grandparents lost power; they were spared. Having one of the few homes with functioning electricity helped Eckelberg stay in the loop with her family.

“They took a lot of videos and sent them to me,” Eckelberg said. “They think they heard a few tornadoes come around them.”

Watching the videos her brother sent was a surreal experience for Eckelberg. She and her mom, Connie So, constantly watched the news and hoped that everyone in their family was going to make it out of Florida safely.

“We were pretty scared,” Eckelberg said after watching the videos her brother sent. “The doors were shaking, palm trees rocking outside of their door.”

With more than 12,500 flight cancellations and Florida airports filling to capacity, it was a challenge for Eckelberg’s dad and brother to get home. Airport closures and multiple ticket changes added to the challenge of making it back to Seattle.

“We were telling them like get out of there, leave,” Eckelberg said. The duo returned home after being stranded for more than a week in Florida.

Eckelberg’s grandparents are recovering without a lot of damage to the structure of their house, but the basement was severely flooded.

“I just hope that everyone that was hurt or received damage … they’re okay and that they recover.” Eckelberg said.

Hurricane Harvey had a costly impact on Houston, leaving much of the city underwater for days. As Harvey dissipated, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, Cuba and multiple Caribbean Islands. Hurricane Maria knocked out power for 70 percent of Puerto Rico’s citizens, killing 34 people to date. Hurricanes Irma and Harvey alone will cost the U.S. an estimated $150 to $200 billion in recovery funds. Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory, faces months, if not years, of rebuilding the ravaged island.