Sunday, September 3, 2017


The images on the television screen were overwhelming.

Water everywhere. Brackish water. People in boats. People on roofs, literally stranded on shingled islands. People in metal baskets being lifted into helicopters. People crying. People clinging. People helping. Children.

The immensity of the flooding of the Texas coastal plain — and of Houston in particular — was at once both spectacular and heart rending. It took me more than a few moments to absorb what I was seeing.

The first thing I think of when I see people wading through waist-deep water — especially in the South — is snakes. I suppose if there's a current, snakes (Rattlers? Cottonmouths? Copperheads?) might not be such an issue, but I don't know. Alligators, too. Where do these creatures go when there's Biblical flooding?

But that only touched the surface of my awareness. When pictures of first responders started showing up on the TV monitor, many rescuers were wearing hazmat gear. Oh, yeah. All the crap in the water. Chemicals. Fecal matter. Gas and oil. E coli virus. An alphabet list of hepatitis and who knows what else?

The oddest of images were the ones showing buildings on fire in the middle of all that water. Or maybe it was of sharks swimming up the waterlogged Interstate.

My awareness came to something like a full circle a day or two later when it was pointed out that all that standing water is prime breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes? Zika. Malaria. Dengue fever. I hadn't thought at all about mosquitoes.

It all got me to wondering about the recovery process. There are estimates that it could take years, and I don't doubt it. The people of the Gulf will be recovering from Harvey long after other natural disasters distract us: hurricanes on the Atlantic coast, mudslides in the Northwest, or tornadoes that level small Midwest farm towns seem inevitable.

If you need perspective, just ask the folks in eastern North Carolina how they're doing in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, just a year ago. You know, where North Carolina requested $900 million in government relief and got $6.1 million instead.

I prefer not to see national leaders show up for their obligatory photo ops in situations like this, popping up like so many politicians at the county fair. "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" quickly comes to mind. I'd much rather see and hear from the local leaders, who are much more attuned to the crisis at hand and know what's needed.

One of the more interesting stories coming out of this calamity is sports related. Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt was moved to start his own relief fund late last week with the goal of raising $200,000. He's reached $17 million in pledges so far (almost three times what North Carolina got from the government). I'm not quite sure what this means. Do people trust their NFL heroes more than they trust mainstream relief agencies like the Red Cross or the United Way?

Natural disasters are all around us, from grass fires to volcanoes, from earthquakes to hurricanes. How we respond is how we are defined as human beings. Living on the planet makes us "beings." Finding our heart is what makes us "human."

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