Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the enormous energy of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm for a time, could be harnessed to serve later in some practical way, perhaps to light the city of Chicago during one of winter’s darkest weeks?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unending rainfall brought by Harvey, in some places in Texas more than 50 inches already, could be captured, stored and brought to areas that are arid and desperate for water?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the disastrous effects and ruination caused by Harvey could somehow bring Americans back together, red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, forgetting their anger and moving compassionately together to help the tragic victims of our fourth largest city?
Wait, I think destructive Harvey has done just that.
Am I imagining, or did I hear one of our more bellicose representatives, from Long Island no less, promise to bury the hatchet and vote aid for the state of his longtime adversary, despite not having received such aid in our time of terrible need? And wasn’t he bragging about his empathy?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the unprecedented flooding caused by Harvey could incredibly make the prospect of nuclear war with Kim Jong-un secondary at the top of the news hour, beneath the fold on the front page of the daily newspaper and in the public consciousness?
Yes, it happened like that. Even President Trump disappeared from the news for a time. Harvey it seems, terrible as it is, can do strange things.
But the cost, in human agony, is catastrophic. Millions of people throughout the Gulf Coast have had their lives smashed, and that certainly is the main story for America this week. We have been glued to the television, watching the families with little more than the clothes on their backs, wading through the waist-high water to meet a rescuer in a rowboat, their homes behind them flooded to the windowsills. Where will they sleep? What will they eat? Will they have enough water? Did they remember to bring their medicines? Are their other loved ones somewhere safe?
So far, the number of wounded and dead has been low, certainly compared to the horrors of Katrina. But there are all sorts of wounds. Most of the people we see on the screen seem remarkably calm but are most likely in shock, trying to make sense of how their lives have violently changed. For some, their houses are totally gone, smashed and washed away in the floodwaters. For others, their homes will have to be razed to the ground because of mold and rebuilt — if there is money to do so. Unlike with Katrina, where some 50 percent of the homes were insured, it seems only around 20 percent in the Houston area have flood insurance. Businesses, restaurants, automobiles, jobs, whole neighborhoods are gone. Addresses mean nothing because streets are buried. Valuables and memorabilia of a lifetime have floated off. But most residents are “lucky”: They have escaped with their lives, their children in their arms.
The victims of Harvey have been grievously wounded. Our entire nation has been wounded.
We have, for now, lost a wide swath of the South, the ordinary, productive lives of the people who lived there and the many resources they gave us, from rice to oil and gas. After concerns for food and shelter are met for those rescued, there is the real threat of infectious disease, pollution and even the possibility of crime. And how will the affected states dispose of all the garbage Harvey will have left in its wake?
In some ways the rescue operation is a mini-Dunkirk. Good Samaritans, using all sorts of recreational vehicles, pickup trucks, fishing boats, motorized rubber dinghies and even Jet Skis, have rushed to help people trapped on roofs, in attics and in trees. The giant volunteer rescue effort, alongside official disaster responders, is a testament to the courage and basic decency of people throughout the country.
No one was asked whom he or she voted for. America, there is hope.