Hurricane Harvey has wreaked astonishing and heartbreaking damage on the city of Houston and surrounding Southeast Texas.
A Category 4 hurricane crashed ashore with 130 mph winds, crushing coastal towns, and then parked over Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. It could not move because two nearby high pressure systems hemmed it in, so Harvey just kept dumping rain — up to 50 inches on parts of the state — overwhelming every device to deal with deluges, including reservoirs. No city is built to handle 50 inches of rain over four days.
But as so often happens, the bigger story was not the brutal storm, but the amazing response of ordinary Americans. The stories of heroism, sacrifice, bravery and neighbors helping neighbors piling up faster than the floodwaters.
Harvey did not discriminate based on black, white or Hispanic. It didn’t zero in on Democrats or Republicans. It didn’t check gender or views on Confederate statues. Harvey destroyed with wanton impunity, without regard to the puny humans in its path, as natural events do. There was no “us” vs. “them” in the divisive memes of today, but man against nature — and man for man.
In the midst of it all, first responders did what they always do, charging into the breach to help those in need. But they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the disaster. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people with flat boats took to the roads that had become lakes and began looking for the stranded and desperate. They were everywhere. On day 4 alone, more than 8,000 stranded people were rescued from high waters. Many were on roofs or the tops of cars.
Those that could not go, sent help. Donations began pouring in from Americans around the nation. Tens of millions of dollars, and items from diapers to water to First Aid kits. No one checked voter ID, no one asked for the donations to only go to pro-Trump or anti-Trump Americans.
Here is just a tiny sample of average Americans at their best:
- The young man with no training who took over running a Rockport school that had been opened as a shelter, but not staffed. He organized about a dozen young people to check on people every 30 minutes and make reports. When authorities arrived, they were amazed to find he had stats on total number, medical needs, children, and so on. And yet no experience doing this. He did it because it needed to be done.
- The Louisiana-based Cajun Navy, an amalgam of volunteer groups, traveled on Day 2 to their neighbors in distress to the west — a small army of trucks pulled flat boats that rescued hundreds of people, maybe more.
- A woman (with some backup) broke out into gospel singing in a Houston shelter, lifting spirits as people began singing and clapping and cheering.
- A TV reporter saw a truck driver stranded in his cab as the water rose inside and while on the air, she stopped and ran to flag down a Sheriff’s truck pulling a boat.
- A Houston furniture store opened up its huge showroom and set up a makeshift shelter for anyone in need. It filled up with people able to get warm and dry on nice furniture. The store owners were willing to take in as many as it could hold.
- Anheuser Busch actually halted beer production to send thousands of cases of bottled water to victims.
- States from around the nation sent Guardsmen, convoys of power trucks to start restoring power, sanitation equipment and endless amounts of supplies, as though the whole nation was descending on Houston to help.
The stories will eventually swamp the flood, because after the emergency is over, Americans will continue to pitch in to start the rebuilding of a city. Different sets of volunteer organizations will do what they’ve always done for Americans — and others — in distress and aid in the rebuilding of lives that were turned upside down from the natural calamity.
The disaster even brought out the best in President Trump. He abstained throughout from attacking opponents or news celebrities, and hyperfocused his Twitter feed on the situation in Houston. He rose to the occasion in a way many thought he could not — in the same way so many other Americans did.
Rod Thomson is an author, TV talking head and former journalist, and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.
Pictures worth a thousand words:
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