By Olga Khvan
USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent

Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast earlier this week, causing catastrophic flooding and power outages, wiping out homes and iconic boardwalks along the shore — destruction that many college students watched unfold in their hometowns through the media while miles away from home.

“Seeing the images of the hurricane on the news has really bothered me,” said Nick Warner, a native of Hoboken, N.J., a small city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, many of whose citizens were left stranded in their flooded homes. “To see the hometown I grew up in flooded and ravished by the storm kills me.”

Unlike at many colleges on the East Coast, the hurricane didn’t affect class schedules at Loyola Marymount University in California, where Warner is a junior. Although his house wasn’t flooded, his parents have been without power since Sunday and he has found himself in a constant state of concern.

“Seeing the images [of the damage] makes me want to fly home and help out,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of schoolwork this week and all I’ve been doing is keeping in contact with friends and family, reading news articles and looking at the images online.”

By Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images

Mud and debris litter a street Thursday in Hoboken, N.J. Surrounding areas continue to recover from Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall along the New Jersey shore, and left parts of the state and the surrounding area flooded and without power.

Like Warner, Carnegie Mellon University junior Hannah Dellabella can’t seem to tear herself away from the aerial views of the destruction in New Jersey that have been posted online by various media outlets.

“There are houses piled up like some bizarre car accident. The streets look like rivers. There are just piles and piles of wood and debris. It’s so surreal,” she said. “I can’t stop looking at the destruction, even though it’s upsetting.”

Dellabella hails from Bayonne, a town in New Jersey’s Hudson County — one of the counties that President Obama declared major disaster areas earlier this week. There, the storm toppled a tree in front of her house, damaging two cars and taking out her neighbors’ power. Her house has been without power since Monday evening, but she’s been able to maintain communication with her parents, who have been charging their cellphones with a car charger and providing her with updates.

“My mom says gas is currently like gold and it’s dangerous to drive since there aren’t any streetlights,” she said. “But she’s grateful that we haven’t really lost anything and so am I. It could have been so much worse.”

The Dellabellas also own two houses in Seaside Park, located in Ocean County, another major disaster area. While they haven’t been able to survey the damage there yet in person, they’ve been able to track the status of their property, including the possible whereabouts of an uncle’s boat, through images and videos posted on Facebook.

“My brother and I were able to look on Jersey Shore Hurricane News for pictures of our shore houses. When we found a picture of a badly flooded N Street [where the houses are located], I really wanted to cry. But at the same time, our houses are still standing, which is more than many people can say,” she said.

Dellabella was able to share the good news with her parents, who have been relying on her for news updates while they are without Internet.

“It’s strange — they haven’t even been able to see the extent of the destruction, even though they’re right in the middle of it,” said Dellabella.

While many in New Jersey remain in the dark, images of the decimated state have struck a sense of disbelief among the state’s natives currently spread throughout the nation.

“It was pretty rough seeing those images, especially being over four hours away and not being able to do anything to help the city I grew up in,” said Hoboken native and Boston University junior Evan Pring. “You tend to underestimate the severity of this stuff until you see pictures and video for yourself.”

“It is truly an eye-opening experience because being from New Jersey, we never expected to have a hurricane like this hit our area so hard,” said Conor Woods, a native of Harrison, N.J. and junior at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Woods’ father is a coordinator at the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and has been working nonstop for days, he said. Woods plans on going home this weekend to help out with relief efforts as well.

Whether they plan to return home immediately or in the near future, New Jersey natives remain optimistic about their state’s recovery.

“My hopes for recovery begin with the safe rescue of those who are still stranded,” Woods said. “I can only hope that we, as a state, can learn from this experience and grow to better our preparedness.”

“I hope that the residents of New Jersey can show how mentally tough they are,” Pring said.

“New Jersey is full of strong and proud people. Even though we’ve really been hit hard by this tragedy, we won’t stay down,” said Dellabella. “I think in this time of hardship, everyone will pull together to rebuild. We’ll build new boardwalks, new houses, new roller coasters for the next generation.”

“We will pull through,” Warner said. “I cannot wait to return home in three weeks to Hoboken for Thanksgiving break. I hope there is a positive spirit in the air, that things have been fixed and everyone can get back to their normal lives.”

Olga Khvan is a Fall 2012 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent. Learn more about her here.

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