Almost 3,000 miles from home, where ash is in the air and fire continues to burn in the nearby hills, Californians say the hardest part of the past few days has been the distance.
To keep in touch and stay informed on the play-by-play back home, students said they use their cell phones to talk to family and Facebook to let their friends know they are OK.
“Facebook has been incredibly useful,” said Hannah Cary, a junior from San Diego whose family was evacuated. “I can just put my status up there saying that I’m OK. It’s a really great opportunity for people to message me and update me.”
Those whose families have been evacuated are keeping in touch as much as they can. Friends and family have been more than helpful with offering support and camaraderie, students said.
“Everybody has been really understanding,” Cary said. “The frustrating thing is that you take a phone call and you’re not able to do anything. But it feels better to be there when someone is telling you news and feel like you’re completely up to date even if there isn’t anything you can do.”
Although staying connected has eased students’ uncertainty about life back home, those from San Diego, Orange County and other affected areas have had anything but an easy week coping with the brutal wildfires.
As of Sunday, the wildfires destroyed more than 1,790 homes and killed seven, according to news reports. About 6 percent of students at GW are from California.
For junior Cielo Villasenor, staying in contact with her family has been her top priority after she found out on Thursday that the place she once called home is now in ashes.
Villasenor – who is originally from Mexico, but moved to Ramona, Calif., when she was in high school – said when her parents returned on Thursday to see their ruined house for themselves they were void of any good news to report back to her or the rest of her family.
“Since they went back my mother is taking it very harshly,” Villasenor said. “She’s very upset about the photos and all these memories that we lost. My mother has to be strong because she is now in charge of a family that has nothing.”
As Villasenor, Cary and other students from Southern California try to connect back home, GW Housing Programs has been connecting with them throughout the week through e-mail blasts targeted at students from the affected areas. The e-mails have offered condolences and directed students to University personnel who can help with counseling and financial services.
Matt Trainum, director of GW Housing Programs, said the hardest part for students has been the lack of information.
“Twenty-four hours without hearing from your family makes you assume something’s bad,” Trainum said. “Then you may finally hear everything’s good, but that 24 hours is not pleasant.”
“I heard from a student whose family had been evacuated and it was not looking well and then I talked to her yesterday and her family is back in the house and actually the parents are back at work. So it’s been good to hear some of those stories,” Tranium added.
Villasenor, whose family also has a house in Mexico, said, “I guess we’re all just thankful that everyone is safe.”