Hurricanes Irma and Harvey - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
The HWS Update
Petyerak and team

Hurricanes Irma and Harvey

Hurricane 2As alums and members of the HWS community prepare for Hurricane Irma, alums in Texas are rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

“When you wake up, you don’t really know what you’re going to get yourself into. You don’t know how high the water is going to be when you go to bed. The water recedes and rises on its own schedule,” says Steve Petyerak ’93, an Emmy-winning producer for The Weather Channel who covered Harvey and its aftermath last week (pictured above on far right). “TV can get up and get going, but if you only have a few minutes to help someone and get them into a life raft, that’s what you’re going to do. It’s really more about the humanitarian effort.”

Petyerak, iconic meteorologist Jim Cantore and their crew weaved through fallen power lines in their satellite TV truck on the first day of the storm in Corpus Christi, losing cell service, electricity and tires that popped on metal in the street. In Houston, they assisted the National Guard and local volunteers in rescue missions. “We made a point of being in places where we can help people,” says Petyerak, who assisted those in need reach lifeboats, air-baskets for helicopter evacuations and drove evacuees to higher ground. “We put the blinders on emotionally and tried to help people get where they needed to go.”

Petyerak, who is based in Atlanta, is currently in the greater Miami area for coverage of Hurricane Irma. As with each storm they cover, Petyerak and his crew are prepared with several days’ worth of food, water and clothing in each of their production vehicles and have accommodations in structurally sound hotels on elevated ground. However, Petyerak is consistently prepared to make swift decisions for the safety of their production crew.

Hurricane 4Katie Swanson ’06, of Port Aransas, Texas, evacuated on the eve of Hurricane Harvey and stayed in San Antonio during the storm. Swanson’s home survived the storm, but she returned to find nothing was recognizable. “It is kind of like a gut punch every morning. It’s a lot trash and debris and just piles. It’s not my sleepy little fishing town anymore.”

Despite the totality of the rubble, Swanson and the community are moving to swiftly recuperate. Teams of volunteers move throughout Port Aransas on foot, helping neighbors gut their homes of debris and damage. Free barbecues mark neighborhood corners and offer food to anyone in need. “The community effort is amazing. It gives hope to Port Aransas for rebuilding; I think that our love for each other will help us rebuild.”

A stewardship coordinator at the Mission-Aransas National Research Reserve, Swanson is gauging the environmental impact of the storm with her team through a program managed by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and funded partially by public support. She is also aiding relief efforts as an executive board member and treasurer of the non-profit Keep Port Aransas Beautiful, which will allocate 100 percent of Hurricane Harvey donations to supporting the community and area wildlife.

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