One month ago, hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle, laying waste to coastal cities such as Mexico Beach as well as places like Grand Ridge, 70 miles inland. It left thousands essentially homeless. They join a growing population of the storm-displaced, facing days of particular and peculiar challenges, from Bay County, Fla., to Pender County, N.C., 700 miles to the northeast. For many of these Americans, life has become a world of heartache as they wait for insurance settlements, hope for loans, and scratch together resources as the job market returns to normal.
In Port Aransas, schools had only been in session a few days when the storm hit, replacing beach-happy bliss with cataclysmic chaos. Boats lay strewn across the roadways, draped in live electrical wires. Dead fish littered the high school track. Natural gas mingled with ground water. More than 2,500 homes in the city of 4,000 residents were heavily damaged or destroyed.
Hurricane Harvey left an indelible mark on Refugio and other small communities in what’s called Texas’ Coastal Bend, battering buildings and replacing bucolic bliss with chaos. But the streets in this town of 2,890 people are not empty because of the hurricane – they are empty in spite of it. It’s a brisk nod of Texas defiance in the face of overwhelming loss. A tip of the hat to the unifying roles of faith, family, and football as Texans begin to rebuild a way of life that neither war nor weather has managed to vanquish.
Shady, tree-lined neighborhoods are a maze of mismatched dinette sets and children’s toys. Stores are de facto shelters, diners and one-stop shops for donations and disaster assistance forms. Times are hard, but one thing has emerged — a wave of community spirit and Christian servanthood as neighbors help neighbors and churches unleash armies of volunteers.
This was her third flood. I did not ask why she stays, because it is her right to live where she chooses, and she owes neither me nor anyone else an explanation. For her, this yard, this house, this oak tree, is happiness. I see a clever sign. She sees birthday parties and prom date photos in the front yard. She sees her children’s tiny fingers and toes and smells the sweetness of walking in the front door with a brand new, fragile life in her hands. These things are not easy to leave.
The scope of the devastation is staggering. Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, bigger than the state of New Jersey with a population of more than 2.3 million within city limits and 6.5 million throughout the metro area. Across the state, Hurricane Harvey affected more than 6.8 million people in 18 counties. As the days pass, the damage and death totals continue to rise. So, too, do the number of volunteers.