COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill

Where is the Rut?
October 25, 2017
October 25, 2017

What Storm

H hurricane Harvey, I’ve been told, is the worst natural disaster on U.S. soil in history. I don’t know whether that’s true, but Harvey certainly caused a lot of damage.

From Port Aransas to Bridge City, and inland as far as Conroe, Harvey damaged at least 150,000 properties, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Estimates of the damage hover around the $190 billion mark, and may well go much higher. More than 30,000 were left homeless, and more than 70 people lost their lives during the hurricane. 

The lives lost, of course, is the worst of the toll taken by the storm. Floodwaters recede, debris can be cleaned up, and homes can be rebuilt. People, loved ones, cannot be replaced. But as heartbreaking as the storm’s death toll was, experts said that it could have gone much higher. If not for heeded warnings, swift action by first responders, and pure luck, Harvey might have claimed many more lives.

Having never experienced such a storm myself, it’s impossible for me to imagine the terror faced by those who were in Harvey’s path. The amount of water dumped along the Texas coast, over 20 trillion gallons by some estimates, quickly overwhelmed all drainage routes and turned the coastline into a maelstrom of violence, uprooting trees, dismantling buildings, and washing away boats and vehicles like bath toys.

As usual during such disasters, Harvey brought stories of heroism and tragedy. People risked their lives, and sometimes lost them, trying to save others. 60-year-old Sergeant Steve Perez, a 34-year veteran of the Houston police department, was one of those lost to the storm.

One story, out of Beaumont I believe, epitomizes the tragic events along the coast, and the character of the people who faced them. A 41-year-old woman and her three-year-old daughter were stranded by high water and swept into a drainage canal. The woman managed to save her daughter, but drowned in the process.

By any reckoning, the hurricane was a monumental disaster, but despite being horribly destructive and deadly, the storm brought people together like nothing since 9/11. Folks from all over the country converged on the Texas coast to help rescue survivors from the flooding, clean up and rebuild. The best part is, as bad as the situation was, Harvey created equality like nothing since Sam Colt’s first revolver.

While white supremacists, antifa and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) groups clashed in other parts of the country, people of all skin tones risked their lives to save others of all skin tones. Rescuers don’t care about the color of the people who need help, and the victims are grateful no matter the race of their benefactors.

No one, standing on the roof of their flooded home, asked the political party of boaters who came to rescue them. Harvey didn’t play favorites, didn’t care whether the homes flooded belonged to rich or poor, white or black or brown, Republican or Democrat, man or woman or undecided. Neither did those who flocked to the Texas coast to lend a hand, cheerfully and without pay, to whomever needed it.

As usual when a tragedy occurs, there were those who tried to use the storm to advance their own agenda. Whether that involved climate change, or bashing the current administration, or racial division, or gender equality, or gun control, or boxers vs. briefs, it didn’t work. Those who mattered, the victims and the volunteers, collectively ignored the whiners. They didn’t have time for petty sniping and self-serving speeches. They had work to do—and they did it.

As I write, Hurricane Irma has already done terrific damage in the Virgin Islands, and continues on a course for Florida. Experts tell us Irma will be even more destructive than Harvey. Unless something changes, the entire, horrible scenario caused by Harvey will soon repeat itself, causing more damage, taking more lives, and challenging the resolve of those in the path of the storm.

Once again, people from all over the country will come to help, without reward, except for the knowledge that they were able to lend a hand to those who desperately needed it.

The Texas coast won’t be rebuilt overnight. You don’t repair almost $200 billion worth of damage in a month or two, even in Texas. But it will get done.

It won’t be done by those who hope to capitalize on the misfortunes of others. It will be done by Texans and others who look at the people of the Texas coast and see, not black people, or white people, or brown people, but people—Americans who need help.

Texans, who have been hit with the biggest storm in memory, shook the mud out of their boots, rolled up their sleeves, and went to work. Those are my people, and it will take more than Harvey to stop them.



Email Kendal Hemphill at [email protected]


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