It is hard to imagine that what was barely a tropical storm when it headed north across the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico would become a natural disaster of epic proportions when it came on shore just east of Corpus Christi, Texas. Coastal towns that received the brunt of the hurricane force winds and the torrential rains were devastated, but Harvey had much more misery in store for Southeast Texas. Barely moving, Harvey dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on the areas around Galveston and Houston that led to flash floods that overwhelmed the systems designed to drain flood waters. The result was thousands of people were in jeopardy of losing cars, homes, possessions and their lives. There had been warnings, but few could have imagined the suddenness of the rise in water levels and even fewer could predict exactly where the floods would occur. Unfortunately, even some who may have wanted to leave had nowhere to go and no way to escape.
While we can be thankful that the death toll of Harvey is low compared to Katrina and other storms that have battered the area in the last century, the loss of property, the psychological trauma and the toll of disrupted lives will be astronomical. The pictures of multigenerational Houstonians, men and women, of all racial and cultural background huddled together in cramped spaces are extremely heart-breaking. Images of elderly women sitting in waist high water and of crying babies being handed to strangers in order to escape homes that have been inundated by flood waters are frightening, disconcerting and a little maddening.
However this tragedy, as bad as it is and will be for some time to come, has shown something worth recognizing and celebrating. Less than a month removed from Charlottesville and its exposure of America’s ugly racist “underbelly,” Houston has shown America’s ability to unite and demonstrate the best of our nation. The hurricane, the tornadoes and the obscene amounts of rain were not discriminatory. People of every gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, culture and economic level have been impacted by Harvey and the response has been something to celebrate. People of every description saw the need of their neighbors and risked their own safety to help. First responders did their best but their efforts were augmented by volunteers who saw the need and went to work. Strangers waded through waist deep flood waters pulling almost anything that would float and carry people to safety. Persons with boats drove down flooded highways and launched their boats in search and rescue efforts that brought people out of harms way. Social media helped locate stranded people whose rescue may not have been in time had it not been for those who were determined to help save the lives of those in danger. A furniture store owner, known for the extraordinary size of the building and the number of mattresses he has for sale, opened the store so he could house and feed those who had become homeless. The rich diversity of the Houston area became an example of how good people can come together to make a difference for the better.
America’s imperfections are often on display. Our differences can be, and often are, regularly exposed for personal, political and sometimes just reasons. However, we are at our best when our differences do not alienate us from one another and do not eclipse our common humanity. The tragedy that is Harvey, has shown our need for each other. The aftermath of Harvey will test whether the best of America will continue to rise up and bless us or the distorted, reprehensible aspects of Charlottesville emerge as acceptable.