After the Storm: Picking Up the Pieces in Florida

On the morning of September 11, the eyewall of Hurricane Irma passed about 10 miles to the east of my home.  With the power out, I sat in an interior space, a hand-cranked radio almost my only contact with the world.  Without electricity, Wi-Fi, and cable, that radio remained my only real contact for the next four days.

Fortunately, as the heat and humidity rose, a friend with power offered an air-conditioned place to stay.  At last, on September 14, power was restored.  I'm grateful to those at Duke Energy who worked 24/7 to make it happen.

As for FEMA and other government responders, their efforts were about what I expected – which is to say, nothing.  A cool drink and a snack the morning after the storm would have been appreciated, especially for my many elderly neighbors, but that sort of quick response came only from a well organized Baptist church group – the same group that always shows up hours after an emergency.

Like everyone else, I'd done a lot to prepare for the storm.  I'd topped off the car, loaded up on water, filled the bathtub, stockpiled food and ice, sandbagged the doors, checked the windows for leaks, charged the phones and computer, and cooked some goodies to keep up my spirits as the long night approached.

Before and after the storm, I was struck by the many acts of kindness I observed.  Nearly everyone was out checking on neighbors.  Volunteers, including a handful of jailbirds, were busy filling sandbags around the clock.  If you've ever hauled a 40-pound sandbag to your car, you can imagine what it's like filling and loading bags in 90-degree heat.

After the storm, I escorted an elderly couple to the movies – appropriately enough, a showing of Life of Pi, with its dramatic storm scenes and its theme of survival through hope and faith.  I liked that film, my white-haired guest exclaimed, gratitude in her voice for being asked and something more: an expression of that most basic human need for support and concern – support that can't come from a government "crisis management center," no matter how well run.

My small act of kindness was matched by millions of others across the region.  There were the hundreds of thousands of grocery clerks and medical personnel who found a way to work the day after the storm.  There were the thousands of others, paid and unpaid, who worked to clear debris.  There were the national guardsmen who worked to secure neighborhoods, often in dangerous conditions.  And there were millions like myself, private citizens doing what they can.   

In the worst of the storm, emergency vehicles weren't able to answer calls.  It's an uncanny feeling, sitting in the dark with the winds howling, knowing that the usual safety net of fire, ambulance, and police won't be showing up, even if the roof blows.  Uncanny, but not entirely bad.  It forces us to recognize that, in the final analysis, we are on our own.

It's so not just with tropical storms, but with all the other "hurricanes" of life: illness, financial crises, and loss of all kinds.  For all of us, there will be a time to stay stronger than we ever imagined we could.  And to stay strong for others.  Whoever looks to Washington for help will be sorely disappointed.    

As for coverage of the storm, I've been on an involuntary "news fast" for the last four days.  But I don't have to watch the news to imagine what's been said as the national media twist the facts to fit the liberal agenda.  No, Florida gas shortages are not the fault of Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott.  No, Irma is not part of a right-wing conspiracy targeting minorities.  And no, Irma is not God's wrath on President Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

With the exception of those on The View and the rest of the liberal media, most Americans recognize that storms like Irma aren't the "result" of anything.  They are normal facts of life for those like myself who choose to live in places like Florida.  No major hurricane had struck the U.S. for 12 years until 2017, so we were due.  Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma do a lot of damage.  The lesson is to prepare, stay calm, and help each other.  And to resist the inevitable feeding frenzy to come on the part of the climate alarmists.

A storm like Irma makes us realize how little government can do to protect us.  It can't fire rockets into the eye-wall and diminish the size of the storm (or, as a friend suggested, drop tons of dry ice into the low-pressure system off the coast of Africa before it develops into a tropical storm).  It can't block the storm surge as Irma makes landfall.  It can't even reduce the wind damage and flooding that will follow.  All it can do is write checks, transferring money from one citizen's pocket to another's, having confiscated a big share for administrative costs.

During the storm itself, we're on our own.  For some, this will be serious, even life-threatening.  For many of us, however, it isn't an entirely bad feeling.  This is one time when the role of government – not much – is made clear.  The role of friends and family, and of self-responsibility, is also abundantly clear.

On September 10-11, I spent much of the night reading John Worthen's biography of D.H. Lawrence.  Lawrence's life was a perpetual hurricane as he tested the limits of censorship and spoke out courageously against any sort of authority that restricted the rights of individuals (including what already in the early 1920s he saw as the threat of communism to Britain and the West).  Traveling from Britain to Italy, Ceylon, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico itself, Lawrence sought that ideal place (Rananim, he sometimes called it).  He even thought of founding a sort of Brook Farm, along with Aldous Huxley, John Middleton Murry, and other writer friends, in Florida, of all places.  Thank goodness that one didn't come off.   

I survived Irma with the help of family and friends, and I offered what help I could in return.  Irma was a destructive hurricane, and government is offering what aid it can.  But that aid, like the infamous Katrina "trailers," is never very effective or very much.  Life is always full of crises that government cannot address.  Prepare, stay strong, and help each other.  That's the lesson of Irma, and of every other crisis in life.    

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

On the morning of September 11, the eyewall of Hurricane Irma passed about 10 miles to the east of my home.  With the power out, I sat in an interior space, a hand-cranked radio almost my only contact with the world.  Without electricity, Wi-Fi, and cable, that radio remained my only real contact for the next four days.

Fortunately, as the heat and humidity rose, a friend with power offered an air-conditioned place to stay.  At last, on September 14, power was restored.  I'm grateful to those at Duke Energy who worked 24/7 to make it happen.

As for FEMA and other government responders, their efforts were about what I expected – which is to say, nothing.  A cool drink and a snack the morning after the storm would have been appreciated, especially for my many elderly neighbors, but that sort of quick response came only from a well organized Baptist church group – the same group that always shows up hours after an emergency.

Like everyone else, I'd done a lot to prepare for the storm.  I'd topped off the car, loaded up on water, filled the bathtub, stockpiled food and ice, sandbagged the doors, checked the windows for leaks, charged the phones and computer, and cooked some goodies to keep up my spirits as the long night approached.

Before and after the storm, I was struck by the many acts of kindness I observed.  Nearly everyone was out checking on neighbors.  Volunteers, including a handful of jailbirds, were busy filling sandbags around the clock.  If you've ever hauled a 40-pound sandbag to your car, you can imagine what it's like filling and loading bags in 90-degree heat.

After the storm, I escorted an elderly couple to the movies – appropriately enough, a showing of Life of Pi, with its dramatic storm scenes and its theme of survival through hope and faith.  I liked that film, my white-haired guest exclaimed, gratitude in her voice for being asked and something more: an expression of that most basic human need for support and concern – support that can't come from a government "crisis management center," no matter how well run.

My small act of kindness was matched by millions of others across the region.  There were the hundreds of thousands of grocery clerks and medical personnel who found a way to work the day after the storm.  There were the thousands of others, paid and unpaid, who worked to clear debris.  There were the national guardsmen who worked to secure neighborhoods, often in dangerous conditions.  And there were millions like myself, private citizens doing what they can.   

In the worst of the storm, emergency vehicles weren't able to answer calls.  It's an uncanny feeling, sitting in the dark with the winds howling, knowing that the usual safety net of fire, ambulance, and police won't be showing up, even if the roof blows.  Uncanny, but not entirely bad.  It forces us to recognize that, in the final analysis, we are on our own.

It's so not just with tropical storms, but with all the other "hurricanes" of life: illness, financial crises, and loss of all kinds.  For all of us, there will be a time to stay stronger than we ever imagined we could.  And to stay strong for others.  Whoever looks to Washington for help will be sorely disappointed.    

As for coverage of the storm, I've been on an involuntary "news fast" for the last four days.  But I don't have to watch the news to imagine what's been said as the national media twist the facts to fit the liberal agenda.  No, Florida gas shortages are not the fault of Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott.  No, Irma is not part of a right-wing conspiracy targeting minorities.  And no, Irma is not God's wrath on President Trump for withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

With the exception of those on The View and the rest of the liberal media, most Americans recognize that storms like Irma aren't the "result" of anything.  They are normal facts of life for those like myself who choose to live in places like Florida.  No major hurricane had struck the U.S. for 12 years until 2017, so we were due.  Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma do a lot of damage.  The lesson is to prepare, stay calm, and help each other.  And to resist the inevitable feeding frenzy to come on the part of the climate alarmists.

A storm like Irma makes us realize how little government can do to protect us.  It can't fire rockets into the eye-wall and diminish the size of the storm (or, as a friend suggested, drop tons of dry ice into the low-pressure system off the coast of Africa before it develops into a tropical storm).  It can't block the storm surge as Irma makes landfall.  It can't even reduce the wind damage and flooding that will follow.  All it can do is write checks, transferring money from one citizen's pocket to another's, having confiscated a big share for administrative costs.

During the storm itself, we're on our own.  For some, this will be serious, even life-threatening.  For many of us, however, it isn't an entirely bad feeling.  This is one time when the role of government – not much – is made clear.  The role of friends and family, and of self-responsibility, is also abundantly clear.

On September 10-11, I spent much of the night reading John Worthen's biography of D.H. Lawrence.  Lawrence's life was a perpetual hurricane as he tested the limits of censorship and spoke out courageously against any sort of authority that restricted the rights of individuals (including what already in the early 1920s he saw as the threat of communism to Britain and the West).  Traveling from Britain to Italy, Ceylon, Australia, New Mexico, and Mexico itself, Lawrence sought that ideal place (Rananim, he sometimes called it).  He even thought of founding a sort of Brook Farm, along with Aldous Huxley, John Middleton Murry, and other writer friends, in Florida, of all places.  Thank goodness that one didn't come off.   

I survived Irma with the help of family and friends, and I offered what help I could in return.  Irma was a destructive hurricane, and government is offering what aid it can.  But that aid, like the infamous Katrina "trailers," is never very effective or very much.  Life is always full of crises that government cannot address.  Prepare, stay strong, and help each other.  That's the lesson of Irma, and of every other crisis in life.    

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

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