Hurricane Harvey hits close to home for sophomore Grace Kenningham

By Britney Dixon | Sports Manager

Screams echoed through the phone—the last noise before the line went dead.

Wind gusts of 130 miles per hour pulled trees from their roots and shut down businesses. Power lines rode the waves as 49 inches of E. coli- filled rainfall flowed through the streets of Houston, luckily missing the street where Grace Kenningham’s family survived the storm.

Nineteen-year-old Grace Kenningham, from just outside of downtown Houston, is a sophomore at Roger Williams University studying criminal justice. Kenningham is an outside hitter on the 6-2 women’s volleyball team.

Kenningham was on the phone with her mother as a large oak tree crashed in her backyard, destroying her fence and basketball hoop.

The Kenningham family, not worried, brought in their outdoor furniture in preparation for a mild storm. They had previously been through hurricanes Rita, Katrina, and Sandy—when they lived in New Jersey—and from their history, they thought they were prepared.

“This [storm] was by far the worst,” Kenningham said.

While the floods missed their street, all the neighboring roads still have five feet of water. Kenningham’s father’s five-minute commute to work took an hour and a half due to rain and other damages around town.

Being here on the volleyball team helped Kenningham cope with the situation.

“My team has supported me through all of this,” Kenningham said.

While the other half of Kenningham’s family remains safe from the remnants of Hurricane Irma in Florida, her parents came out to support the RWU women’s volleyball team in Cambridge, Massachusetts at their tournament hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Seeing them for the first time since Hurricane Harvey was positive reinforcement for Kenningham last weekend.

“It’s hard not always knowing their status,” Kenningham said.

After first hearing about Hurricane Harvey’s impact on her family, Kenningham’s attitude in practice wasn’t up to her own day-to-day expectations.

By the time the team had traveled to Massachusetts, Kenningham’s leadership role skyrocketed past her previous best.

Kenningham produced eight kills and four service aces in their first match against Wellesley College to help secure their first victory of the weekend. Her adrenaline pushed her to perform 13 kills and 15 digs against Babson College as the Hawks battled under pressure to take the loss against Babson 1-3.

Since then, everything has started to dry out, and it has been easier to travel around Houston. Kenningham’s family is experienced in how to deal with the aftermath of a hurricane after living through four together. Her parents, brother, and sister were stuck in the house for five days with no power and limited resources, but remained safe and unharmed.

In Houston, school should have began at the end of August when Harvey touched down. For all the 215,000 children who couldn’t get lunch without school in session, Kenningham’s mother would deliver food. Kenningham’s sister stayed active by caring for animals who were abandoned or washed out.

“They’re just trying to help people that were more affected by the storm,” Kenningham said.

Hurricane Harvey caused over $75 billion worth of damage, putting 33 Texas counties under federal disaster declaration. Within the first 15 hours of the storm, 56,000 people were reaching out to 911.

Over 72,000 people were rescued from the hurricane over the last several weeks. At this point, schools are back in session and counselors are fully prepared to help those students who have been traumatized by the storm. Houston is working towards a long, full recovery including roughly 28 nine-ton trucks of debris being carried off of properties around the city and draining houses of as much as 10 feet of water.

Kenningham’s family will continue to power through this recovery, helping the rest of their Houstonians. Kenningham will continue her aggressive leadership role and high energy on and off the court as the Hawks’ take on Clark University and revisit Babson this Saturday, looking to take home a momentum for their first Commonwealth Coast Conference game.