The years-long re­cov­ery from Hur­ri­cane Harvey

Rome News-Tribune - - EDITORIALS AND OPINION - From the Chicago Tri­bune

The scale of flood­ing in the Houston area as a re­sult of Hur­ri­cane Harvey is hard to imag­ine, and the images of suf­fer­ing are hor­ri­fy­ing to be­hold. In cen­tral and south Texas, an area the size of Michi­gan is now a storm-tossed lake. What Brad Kieser­man, vice pres­i­dent of Red Cross, de­scribed as “the most cat­a­strophic event” he has ever seen has killed sev­eral peo­ple, dis­placed tens of thou­sands and wrecked un­told num­bers of homes, com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial build­ings, high­ways, bridges and har­bors.

It has also cre­ated hu­man mis­ery on a vast scale. Thirty Texas coun­ties, which to­gether have nearly 7 mil­lion res­i­dents, already have been de­clared dis­as­ter ar­eas. Nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple may ul­ti­mately need dis­as­ter as­sis­tance. The phys­i­cal and emo­tional wounds in­flicted on vic­tims won’t heal overnight.

One heart­en­ing as­pect of the catas­tro­phe is the heroic ef­fort of so many lo­cals who’ve used ev­ery means they had to res­cue those stranded and in dan­ger. An­other was the re­sponse of other cities in the re­gion. “We will do what­ever it takes,” promised San An­to­nio Mayor Ron Niren­berg, who ex­pects a large in­flux of evac­uees from Houston, 200 miles to the east. “No one will be turned away.”

No doubt Amer­i­cans will re­spond quickly and gen­er­ously to the catas­tro­phe, send­ing con­tri­bu­tions to groups that min­is­ter to those in need — from well-known or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to lo­cal food pantries, di­a­per banks and shel­ters. Nu­mer­ous big cor­po­ra­tions have made large pledges, in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion apiece from Wal­mart, Pep­sico and Ama­zon. Vol­un­teers are ar­riv­ing by the hour to do what they can.

The fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments have a big role to play. On top of the search and res­cue ef­forts un­der­taken and co­or­di­nated by the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, Con­gress may have to come up with ad­di­tional funds to as­sist in over­com­ing this gar­gan­tuan dis­as­ter.

Amer­i­cans who want to help shouldn’t limit their fo­cus to the Houston area. Much of the Texas Gulf Coast was dev­as­tated, and much of south­ern Louisiana, too, is at high risk of flood­ing.

But it’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber Houston and neigh­bor­ing ar­eas once the sun is shin­ing. Re­cov­er­ing from a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter on this im­mense scale takes a long time. If some­one asks how long New Or­leans needed to recover from Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina, in 2005, the best an­swer would be: We’re still wait­ing to find out. “We are go­ing to be deal­ing with this all the way through Christ­mas,” pre­dicted Kieser­man in an in­ter­view with NPR. Re­pair­ing and re­build­ing will take not months, but years.

So will bring­ing back the peo­ple forced to leave. The New Or­leans area lost some 380,000 res­i­dents af­ter Ka­t­rina, and 10 years later, its pop­u­la­tion was still well be­low its pre­vi­ous level. Ba­ton Rouge, which ab­sorbed a lot of those who left New Or­leans, has grown. Tens of thou­sands of for­mer New Or­leans res­i­dents set­tled in Houston, which in 2005 used the Astrodome to pro­vide shel­ter to 25,000 peo­ple.

Many of the un­for­tu­nate souls now dis­placed from Houston are ex­pected to seek refuge in San An­to­nio, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as smaller cities that the storm spared. Dallas is hous­ing evac­uees in a con­ven­tion cen­ter, and high schools and mid­dle schools in Austin are be­ing used as emer­gency shel­ters. Any­one look­ing for wor­thy causes should look not just at the place hit by the storm but the places that will be cop­ing with the in­flux of evac­uees for quite a while.

Amer­i­cans are a gen­er­ous peo­ple, quick to re­spond to dev­as­tat­ing emer­gen­cies by open­ing their check­books and rolling up their sleeves. For all of us, FEMA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long had some sound ad­vice: “Do­nate your money. Fig­ure out how you can get in­volved as we help Texas find a new nor­mal.” We would add: And keep do­ing that long af­ter the flood­wa­ters re­cede.

DIClay Ben­nett, Chat­tanooga Times Free Press

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