GBHS grad reports live from Hurricane Harvey

Briana Whitney witnesses one the most disastrous events in U.S. history

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    When Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi, Texas, on Friday, Aug. 25, it set off one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history.

   As the eye of this Category 4 storm approached the Texas coastline, Granite Bay High School graduate Briana Whitney was literally right in the middle of it.

   Whitney, a general assignment TV news reporter for the ABC news station KIII in Corpus Christi, was reporting live throughout the day and evening as the hurricane advanced.

   “I witnessed the rain coming down a lot harder as the hours went on – the wind picked up tremendously,” Whitney said. “I was in an extreme wind warning. I started watching debris flying off buildings  in downtown Corpus Christi.”

    As the storm progressed, Whitney and her team took refuge in a local  hotel.

   “It was so loud and the hotel was shaking and rocking back and forth,” Whitney said. “So we actually ended up hunkering down in our bathroom with the door shut because we were worried that the wind and the flying debris could crack the windows.”

   Harvey brought with it record rainfall, flooding and severe building damage across its path from Texas to Louisiana.

   It has been Whitney’s job to report on this devastation, bringing to light many emotional stories impacting her local coverage area.

   Whitney, who graduated from GBHS in 2011, has been working as a TV news reporter in Corpus Christi for more than two and a half years.

   Her interest in media began at a young age. She was involved with GBHS’s media program and was also chosen by Radio Disney as an emcee for its local live events.

   After high school, she attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, majoring in broadcast journalism.

   Whitney was passionate about her chosen path and participated in seven different internships at four different news stations during her college years.

   “When I knew I wanted to do broadcast journalism and reporting, it was never for the glamour of being on TV,” Whitney said.

   Instead, she sought to focus on the unique and different experiences in the lives of everyday people.

    “For me, I wanted to tell people’s stories,” Whitney said. “Getting to do something different every day and meeting new people every day interested me and got me excited.”

   After college, Whitney applied for various TV positions and had several offers – location was a crucial factor for her.

    “When I was looking for jobs I tried to look for places where I would get a lot of news and still feel somewhat normal in,” Whitney said. “Obviously in California we have great climate, great weather and beautiful geography, so it’s hard to leave.”

   However, in December 2014, Whitney eventually accepted her current position in Corpus Christi, in part because of its coastal similarity to California.

    “I felt like I could live by the beach still and thought I’d give Texas a try,” Whitney said.

    Little did she know this decision would place her, less than three years later, in the midst of one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history.

   “It looks like either an explosion happened or a tornado,” Whitney said about the aftermath. “There is just not much left.”

   Whitney has seen countless calamitous sights, many of which are unimaginable to those who have never witnessed such an event.

   “The towns that got hit the worst are quaint, fun towns that have nice homes, fun restaurants and fun shops,” Whitney said. “Virtually every building in those cities has some sort of damage or is completely destroyed.”

   “We’re seeing roofs off of hundreds of buildings and debris all over,” Whitney said.  

   She has been working and reporting stories throughout the storm’s aftermath. Many of her special interest pieces have focused on the human and emotional impact of individuals’ experiences.

   Whitney found one story, told through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister whose family lost virtually everything, particularly moving.

   “The 8-year-old girl started crying when her mom made the decision for them to go back to San Antonio,” Whitney said. “She was afraid that they’re going to have to move.”

   Losses like this are hard for adults, but even harder for children.

   “Watching kids go through this – seeing the fear in these kids of not knowing if they’ll ever be able to go home again and unsure of what the next step is for their family and their friends – is pretty awful,” Whitney said.       

    Amid all the destruction and devastation, she has also seen a few simple miracles that have brought light and encouragement during this dark time.

    “There is heartwarming stuff going on all around,” Whitney said. “First off, there are thousands of people donating, coming in to help, and on boats bringing in clothes, food and water.”

    Another of her special interest stories focused on a couple who lost their child after birth. They buried him in the Rockport cemetery, which was one of the towns in the direct line of the hurricane.

    “(The couple), who lost their whole home, went to the cemetery to pick up pieces of his grave, and while most of the cemetery is in shambles, somehow their son’s wooden cross, which is very small next to his grave, had no damage,” Whitney said.

   Little miracles like this have given hope to those affected by Harvey.

   “I think that (stories like these are) putting a smile on the faces of many who are having trouble finding a reason to smile right now,” Whitney said.

   Growing up in Granite Bay, hurricanes never crossed Whitney’s mind. But they are now a stark reality for her, one that has given her a new perspective.

   “I think that prior to living where I am now, I took a lot of things for granted – weather, where we live, having nice homes and having an amazing school for education,” Whitney said. 

   “Just appreciate what you have because you never know when you won’t have it,” Whitney said. “A lot of people (in Texas) don’t even know what’s next for them.”