Hurricane Harvey has hammered southeast Texas. Thousands upon thousands have been displaced, and it will take a long time to again find that elusive thing called normalcy.
In fact, it seems clear already that it will take some time for the scale of destruction to be measured and then sink in. Every hurricane – every disaster – is different, but this one feels a lot like Katrina, which hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama 12 years ago this week.
Eventually rescue and response will be replaced by recovery and rebuilding. That will take waves of volunteers – thousands upon thousands over a period of years – from the people right now who serve meals and fire up chainsaws to clear roads to the crews that come later to muck out homes and start replacing shingles and Sheetrock.
And it will be years. The last Hurricane Katrina relief trip I went on was in late 2006 – 15 months after the storm. We put up walls, we made friends and we shed a tear for the ruin, loss and suffering – the work yet to be done – that remained on the Mississippi Gulf Coast even then.
What led many of us to action at that time was the appalling initial response to Katrina, particularly by the government. I have some faith that things on that front will be better this time, that Katrina’s lessons are still too fresh to have been forgotten.
But it will still come down to the people who take time off work, get organized and oriented, get their tetanus shots and head south. If you go, work through a good organization so things go more smoothly and the reinvention of the wheel is kept to a minimum. I made my Katrina trips through the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and I cannot say enough good things about them. Many, many others also do good work. Be prepared to meet amazing people.
Be prepared for this too. In six months, most of the country will have tuned this out. I truly believe the main value of the trips I took in 2005 and 2006, aside from swinging a hammer, was simply being present and letting people in trying times know they were not alone or forgotten.
On that subject of being prepared, there is this too. It is incumbent upon all of us to be as ready as we can for whatever is likely to come our way – wind, rain, flood, ice, blizzard, earthquake, whatever. Governments are always criticized in these disasters, and sometimes that’s warranted. But every bit we do for preparedness and resilience can matter a great deal. Don’t wait for help.
I think about Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, every day. I think of people who lost close to everything. When I turn on the faucet or the shower, I am reminded never to take things such as clean, safe water for granted. Or a good roof and a warm bed.
Today, we pray, donate and wait for the news. And we look to tomorrow.
– Follow Jeff Fox on Twitter: @FoxEJC