Sym­pa­thy for Har­vey’s vic­tims

Winnipeg Free Press - - YOUR SAY -

S the world watches news coverage of the U.S. Gulf Coast, the tragedy seems par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant to many Man­i­to­bans. We know what it’s like when wa­ter turns malev­o­lent.

Flood­ing al­ways has been a con­cern in Man­i­toba, which is not sur­pris­ing since the cap­i­tal city, Win­nipeg, was built in a flood plain. The me­mories of “the big ones,” in 1950 and in 1997, and less se­ri­ous floods in 2009 and 2011, are part of the public con­scious­ness in Man­i­toba. We know the help­less­ness of watch­ing wa­ter breach the banks.

Most in this prov­ince are too young to re­mem­ber 1950, when nearly 100,000 Man­i­to­bans evac­u­ated their homes. And some Man­i­to­bans are even too young to have hoisted sand­bags in 1997. But sto­ries are passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, and Man­i­to­bans know wa­ter can rise up and dev­as­tate man-made struc­tures, a hor­ren­dous spec­ta­cle cur­rently un­fold­ing along the Gulf Coast.

It would be ex­ag­ger­at­ing to sug­gest Man­i­toba’s past floods are on the same scale as the ru­ina­tion oc­cur­ring in the Hous­ton area. The num­ber of peo­ple in the storm’s path, and the ex­pected prop­erty dam­age, dwarf any­thing in Man­i­toba’s ex­pe­ri­ence. Spring flood­ing in the Red River Val­ley is pre­dictable; our nat­u­ral dis­as­ters typ­i­cally ar­rive with at least six weeks’ ad­vance no­tice.

AOur floods have never ac­com­pa­nied hur­ri­canes, nor fea­tured the stun­ning amount of rain­fall cur­rently drench­ing the south­east coastal re­gion.

But one as­pect of the Texas tragedy will be all too fa­mil­iar to Man­i­to­bans: we know from re­peated ex­pe­ri­ence the de­struc­tion that surg­ing wa­ter can cre­ate.

Res­i­dents in parts of the world that are safe from flood­ing may view wa­ter solely as good, as life-giv­ing hy­dra­tion for our bodies, as es­sen­tial mois­ture for grow­ing crops, as a venue for such recre­ational pur­suits as swim­ming, boat­ing and skat­ing. But res­i­dents of Man­i­toba and the Gulf Coast have had the un­nerv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing or be­ing forced to flee as wa­ter took back the land hu­mans thought they had claimed.

This prov­ince’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence with floods should equip peo­ple in these parts to of­fer ad­vice, although, re­al­is­ti­cally, any lessons learned by Man­i­toba seem woe­fully inad­e­quate in the face of the dis­as­ter un­der­way in the Gulf Coast re­gion.

We could as­sure the be­lea­guered Gulf Coast res­i­dents that out­side help will ar­rive. In the same way mil­i­tary per­son­nel came to Win­nipeg in 1997 to help with the flood-fight­ing ef­forts, U.S. politi­cians are pledg­ing huge re­sources to­ward the dis­as­ter and the re­cov­ery.

We could also tell Hur­ri­cane Har­vey’s vic­tims that ev­ery­day he­roes will emerge. A spirit of self­less com­pas­sion emerges dur­ing catas­tro­phes, with neigh­bours help­ing neigh­bours, res­cuers mak­ing room in boats for stranded strangers, and ci­ti­zens work­ing tire­lessly in gym­na­si­ums turned into evac­u­a­tion cen­tres.

It’s also pos­si­ble the cur­rent calamity will re­sult in Texas en­gi­neers de­sign­ing in­fra­struc­ture changes that fit best with the area’s ge­og­ra­phy and drainage sys­tems. In Man­i­toba, it took the flood of 1950 for the gov­ern­ment to or­der con­struc­tion of the Red River Flood­way. Per­haps the money U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in­tends to spend on the Mex­i­can bor­der wall would be bet­ter directed to deal­ing with the ef­fects of cli­mate change and pro­tect­ing the Gulf Coast from the next big storm.

Man­i­to­bans who are moved by the plight of Texas and Louisiana can do­nate through rel­e­vant agen­cies to help with dis­as­ter re­lief. Those of us who pray can pray for the safety of vic­tims. Be­yond that, there’s lit­tle we can of­fer, other than kin­ship: like res­i­dents of the Gulf Coast, Man­i­to­bans know what it’s like when wa­ter un­leashes its fury.

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