Over Memorial Day Weekend this year, I traveled with International Disaster Emergency Service to the panhandle of Florida to listen to people’s stories as they continue to recover from a hurricane which devastated the area last fall. IDES was on scene shortly after the hurricane went through and has been involved in disaster relief and recovery efforts through the coordination of resources and workers. The trip I was on had been designed specifically as follow-up to listen to stories in order to find ways to better serve the emotional and spiritual recovery as well as the physical needs.
This week, in a small way, I experienced first-hand the stories that I consistently heard from people. Sunday evening as we sat in the house, an isolated tornado formed and passed directly over our property. There was no warning, just a horrendous sound and sudden loss of electricity that got our attention in time to go upstairs and realize that whatever had just happened was already past. On one side of the house, large tree branches had been ripped from trees and blown to the north. On the other side of the house a towering pine tree had come down and fell to the south. As we’re surveying the damage, the tornado sirens finally go off making us wonder if another one is coming — there wasn’t, but in the moment there was nothing but uncertainty.
As I surveyed the house, it appeared the only damage to it was two crank-out windows that had blown out and off their hinges. Using my phone, I was able to access limited information and learned that a tornado did indeed go through and had destroyed a daycare building just north of us. I also learned that power wasn’t expected to be restored until sometime the next day — which for our neighborhood meant not just no electricity, but no water as we’re all on private wells.
Anyhow, that’s a lot of background simply to introduce a few things that I heard from people recovering from hurricane Michael that I also experienced in a much smaller context than they did.
- When disaster strikes, confusion will generally follow.
- Our immediate response is probably a combination of our temperament and adrenaline. I quickly grabbed a chainsaw and began clearing brush from the roadway.
- Once the adrenaline is gone, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. After a restless Sunday night, I found myself staring at the mess on Monday morning wondering where to start.
- Disasters can bring out the best in people. Once I began working on the cleanup Monday morning, it wasn’t long before the neighbors began theirs and we were soon working together throughout the day to clean up the three properties.
- Disasters can bring out the worst in people. It didn’t take long on Monday morning before what I call “the vultures” started showing up — a steady stream of people with business cards and price sheets wanting to “help”. I suspect some, and perhaps many, were legitimate businesses but not all appeared to be. In the already present confusion of disaster, it is easy to see how many people are taken advantage of.
- Public servants just might be an oxymoron. The help that one might expect to get from any level of government that those affected pay taxes to, will likely not be timely or helpful.
- The “fog of disaster” can make it easy to see all the loss and difficulty while blinding a person to the good that remains.
- Learning to praise God before the storm makes it easier to praise Him during and after the storm.
I suppose there is more that I could add . . . and who knows, I may just come back and do so at a later time. 🙂 While going through this tornado hasn’t been pleasant, it was meaningful to me in that it confirmed so much of what I had taken away from our times of listening in Florida. It helps me pray even more deliberately, and perhaps effectively, for those in the midst of disaster recovery.