The images of Hurricane Sandy are burned in my mind now, joining those of Katrina and, of course, Ally Collins.
People who have never been through a flood don’t get it. While the Haltom City flood pales in comparison to a hurricane, the aftermath of that tragedy in 2007 was no less traumatic for survivors. Ally Collins was the little girl who died in our flood, and I’ll never forget her.
If you’ve never experienced a life-threatening flood, think about this. It’s cold outside; you have no power, no heat, no hot water. Actually, you have no clean water at all, not for drinking, showering, brushing your teeth, flushing a toilet.
Everything you own has been ruined. Photos, furniture, clothes — all gone.
You also have no car. Without it, you stand in lines for hours at bus stops. Assuming your city has buses. If you can’t make it to your job, you’ll lose it — and then how will you pay for your house you can’t live in? Even if you keep your job, how will you afford house payments plus rent on a place you can live in?
Because the power is off for days, you can’t charge your phone or get TV or radio news, e-mail, Facebook. Streets are lined with downed trees, rotting food, and furniture. The stench is overwhelming.
You pin your hopes on the insurance adjuster — if you have insurance. In some flood-prone areas, insurers won’t cover you, and if they will, you couldn’t afford it. In New York City, the Department of Buildings is making the call on what happens to your home. They show up, check a box on a form, and your life is changed. Maybe your house is a goner; maybe, even though the water mark is above your head, it’s deemed livable.
The sun is going down — it’s getting very dark again. Two weeks after the storm, you want to go somewhere clean and warm, and you’d give a lot for a hot shower. But the hotels are full, and can you really afford that right now? If you have real friends who live on higher ground, you could possibly impose on them, but not for long. And if you leave, are you abandoning your few remaining belongings to the looters?
In New York, they kept on finding bodies — mostly elderly people and their pets — for days. Heartbreaking. Almost as bad: the sight of kids sleeping night after night in a shelter or a car, if the car dried out OK. What do you tell them when they cry that they want to go home?
For insult with your injury, try dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Applying for help is laborious, and at the end, you will probably be offered … a loan. To add to the bills you already can barely pay. You qualified? Great — you’ll have to prove again each month that you deserve help. The decision will be based on numbers so skewed you’d think a politician came up with them. Oh … right.
(If there were ever an agency that needed emergency management, this would be it. Perhaps the American Red Cross should be put in charge of FEMA. They’ve got disaster response down pat.)
Speaking of politicians, these are golden sound-bite opportunities. They tour the ravaged area with camera crews in tow, they shake their heads, vow to help, go back home, and keep doing whatever they were doing before.
So while states were turning blue and red, people — not Republicans or Democrats — were hanging on for dear life. Those who complain about folks just wanting a handout from the government, consider this: Could you afford to replace everything you own tomorrow? Could you go rent another place while bureaucrats fumble through red tape to determine, what expenses they will cover? Where would you sleep that night? And the next?
Pray or send good vibes, whatever it is that you do. And donate something. Anything. The Red Cross is a good place to start. Usually, they (and the media) are the first on scene. Sadly, the Red Cross folks are the only ones who stay.
It can take years to put your life back together. Your memories will be divided between “before” and “after.”
To borrow a line, no storm lasts forever. And one day at a time is the only way through it.
Layla Caraway is a Haltom City activist and volunteer.