Matthew Martinez, a junior at Montclair State University was in his hometown of Houston, Texas with his family for the summer. He left Houston about three weeks ago to return to school before anyone had any idea how catastrophic Hurricane Harvey would later become.
“It was really history-making and no one really expected it,” said Martinez.
The acting major recalled the escalation of the hurricane as it progressed from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane in only a matter of days. Martinez was born in Houston and lived there for the majority of his life until the age of eighteen. When he was accepted to Montclair State University, he decided to move to New Jersey to attend school. This decision was vital to his education but nevertheless, a huge change in his life. He had never lived apart from his family before.
Martinez was born in Houston and lived there for the majority of his life until the age of eighteen. When he was accepted to Montclair State University, he decided to move to New Jersey to attend school. This decision was vital to his education but nevertheless, a huge change in his life. He had never lived apart from his family before.
All of his family still lives in Texas. Including his mother, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins.
As the storm transitioned into a Category 2 storm, Martinez grew more concerned about his family. Days before the impending storm touched down in Houston, he had called his family to see how everyone was doing.
“I think I was a little more worried about it than they were,” he noted. He had called his cousin, whose initial response was one of normalcy, stating it was just another tropical storm passing through. For his family members who have lived in Texas for all of their lives, tropical storms are common. This storm didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary for them.
As Hurricane Harvey rapidly grew from a tropical storm to Category 4 status, the situation became more serious. Martinez said he knew his mother’s apartment would get flooded due to its proximity to a nearby bayou, and the location of the storm. As Martinez predicted, her apartment was flooded with two feet of water. His mother moved to his uncle’s house soon after the flooding. A few hours later, she got stuck there as the storm got worse.
According to his family, Martinez said the storm started with rain and violent winds. People in Houston could feel their houses moving with each gust of wind. Water was falling from every direction and there was no way to tell where it was coming from.
“It didn’t feel like rain because it was flying around all over the place,” said Martinez. “If you were outside it was hitting you [on] all sides.”
Martinez’s family faced a problem when it came to medication for his uncle and grandmother. His uncle is epileptic and his grandmother is a diabetic. They both rely heavily on their medicine. Once his mother got stuck at his uncle’s house, she had the realization that their medications were back at her apartment. She walked ten miles to get back to her apartment to recover the medicines. When the water got too deep, she had to pick up a boat from Martinez’s cousin’s house in order to get back to her apartment. Luckily, they were able to recover the medicine. Martinez said his mother’s decision to go back for the medication saved his uncle’s life.
“If she hadn’t gone back, my uncle could’ve had a seizure and the ambulances wouldn’t have been able to get through the road to get to him.”
Some of Martinez’s other family members got hit hard by the storm. His cousin’s house was completely underwater, and they had to wait on top of the roof until a boat came by to rescue them.
After the water levels started to go down, his mother was able to get back into her apartment to assess the damages. She had lost everything, as it all sat under two feet of water. Her mattresses, furniture, boxes of memories were all destroyed; the only thing they were able to salvage were clothes. Thankfully, all of Martinez’s family is safe. Recently, they have started to tear down the walls of their houses and apartments to rebuild their homes.
During the course of the storm, the hardest part for Martinez was being in New Jersey over 1,500 miles away from his family and not being able to lend a hand. “Every part of me wants to go back home and rebuild,” said Martinez.
“Airports are still closed and roads are flooded so even if I wanted to [go there] I can’t,” Martinez said. “It’s my home. I wish I was there in the moment to help more.”
It was difficult for Martinez to even go on social media when Hurricane Harvey hit because it was full of videos, pictures, and broadcasts of how the storm was destroying his hometown.
“I saw pictures of places I used to go to and to see it underwater was awful,” Martinez said. “I had to stop myself from opening Facebook because it brought me to tears.”
Despite all of this, Martinez has tried to stay strong throughout the storm and has received a lot of support from his friends in New Jersey. His friends in the Montclair State community who know of Martinez’s ties to Houston reached out to offer help in any way they could. People were contacting him almost every day expressing “concern and care” for how he and his family were doing.
Martinez vocalized his appreciation through a post on Facebook writing, “Thank you to everyone who asked me about how [my] family is doing during this tragic time, it means more to me than you think. Texas Strong!”