Again and again, we see that there is no power like Mother Nature at her worst to highlight what our nation can be at its best.
That may be cold comfort to many of the Texans whose lives are being torn apart by the destructive rains of Hurricane Harvey, but there is a positive reality in the middle of the disaster: extraordinary displays of love, courage, encouragement, kindness and generosity by people from all walks of life. Strangers are helping strangers. Race and ethnicity and income and age and all of our other chasms fade into the background.
Division can seem irrelevant when lives are on the line.
The historic downpours have already dropped as much as 40 inches of rain in and around Houston, and are expected to continue for several days. At least eight people are dead. At least 30,000 in Texas are displaced. Both numbers are likely to rise with the waters, and Louisiana may join Texas in taking a beating.
Resources and people from governmental and nongovernmental agencies are swarming the area to help, including personnel and equipment from the New York Air National Guard at Westhampton Beach, and items collected in the City of Long Beach. It will feel like too little, too late, no matter how well the emergency and recovery are handled, almost by necessity. The cost of constant, complete readiness for apocalyptic storms would be beyond astronomical, the process of such constant preparation impossible.
Long Island has lived through a natural disaster, response and recovery. We are just two months from the fifth anniversary of Sandy, a superstorm that caused significant losses of both lives and property and reshaped our region.
Sandy dropped just a few inches of rain on Long Island, but high wind and a huge surge at high tide damaged or destroyed almost 100,000 structures on the Island, took 52 lives statewide and did billions of dollars worth of damage. It also brought together neighbors and communities, and forced us to reconsider how we ought to build and live here, and how we ought to prepare for what is coming.
The television coverage of Harvey is compelling and puts the spotlight right where it needs to be: on the needs of the people and the region, and the staggering heroics and kindnesses of those helping.
President Donald Trump addressed the plight of Texas in a news conference Monday, and is due to visit the region Tuesday. “We are one American family,” he said, pledging whatever help is needed from the federal government.
Once the waters recede and the recovery begins in earnest, we need to talk about the increasing danger as climate change leads to higher waters and bigger storms. We need to talk about how dangerous it is to pave an area like Houston so thoroughly that it traps water like a huge swimming pool. We need to talk about how we build to mitigate such dangers in all vulnerable areas. And we need to talk about a federal flood insurance program going bankrupt.
But for now, we need to help fellow Americans. And we need to do whatever we can to find a way to love and care for each other day to day as much as we do during a disaster.