|Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.
|When Disaster Strikes A Reflection in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita|
|Written by Rev. Dr. Carl Swearson|
|Friday, 06 January 2006 11:00|
A few days after hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf coast, I was called to Louisiana to help FEMA process applications for assistance for real and personal property damages resulting from the storm. As a housing inspector, I interviewed hundreds of applicants in their owned or rented homes. I witnessed first hand the many ways the hurricanes of 2005 had disrupted their very lives.
In a matter of hours, an entire region’s social structure, with all its economic, government and educational components, were so severely destroyed that hundreds of thousands were suddenly forced to start a new life in a different part of the country, taking little or nothing with them.
Some of the applications I processed were requests for assistance by people who, although their houses were not damaged, had unselfishly opened their homes, often for weeks or months on end, to relatives, friends and even strangers who had to evacuate. Few received financial compensation from their guests.
Many saw their food and utility bills go through the roof. Unfortunately, FEMA had no program to financially help them, even though they saved the government billions of dollars and millions of headaches. If it were up to me, they would be just as qualified as the contractors removing debris and reconnecting utilities to be compensated for their generosity, time and expense.
My observation was the evacuees staying in homes fared much better than those housed in hotels. From my vantage point, those who opened their homes to the evacuees were the true heroes of the hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. This is a model that should be studied and replicated in the future should a similar disaster occur.
Few would disagree with the assertion that prolonged housing of evacuees in hotels approach is fraught with many shortcomings. A cost/benefit analysis of long-term hotel housing is worthy of an in depth study.
I also saw the value of preparing for the unexpected. The hurricane victims who had a disaster plan and insurance fared better that those who didn’t. Those who had reputable insurance companies fared better than the victims who held policies with insurance companies with low premiums and no conscience.
Putting that aside, I came away with the impression that resilience to natural disasters has a lot to do with the state of your family. Time and again, I observed that evacuees who were able to draw upon strong family networks for assistance weathered the storm much better and recovered more quickly than those who did not, especially when compared to dysfunctional households in similar circumstances.
My experience in Louisiana has left an indelible impression on my mind and heart. Katrina and Rita have shown all of us the inadequacies of government involvement. Waiting until Washington comes to rescue you could be like waiting for your lucky lotto numbers to deliver. Uncle Sam will never morph into Daddy Warbucks or a superhero, no matter what political party is heading the administration.
But like a warm winter coat, stable family units can help insulate us from the harsh elements when disaster strikes and callous fate forces us outside to face the unforgiving challenges of life.The Rev. Dr. Carl Swearson is President of the American Family Coalition of Missouri.