Hurricane Irma, the second disastrous Atlantic storm to hit the U.S. in less than a month, has come and gone. New ones are upon us in a cascade of misery. Irma's destruction among the islands, the Florida Keys, up the length of Florida, in Georgia and South Carolina was beyond description. Some places may never recover. Still, it left some golden nuggets.
The deaths of eight residents of a Florida nursing home underscored the concern for helpless elders expressed in my last column. One report cited repeated issues with emergency equipment at that facility in the past. Some states lack clear-cut lines of authority over such things. Without enforced standards, people suffer, even die, unless owners and operators are diligent in protecting their patients. Contrast the Florida case with one from Houston where a staff person waded into a flooded nursing home to "take care of my babies."
Evacuations saved countless lives in Florida. Comprehensive plans were in place. Gov. Rick Scott acted quickly. Law enforcement and other first responders performed well. Certainly there were problems, the worst being fuel shortages due in part to the fact that Harvey shut down so many refineries in Texas and Louisiana. However, the mass evacuation worked.
Incidentally, kudos to all of the people in Georgia who fed, sheltered and welcomed so many Floridians fleeing the storm.
Except for storm-surge flooding on the coast, southeastern Georgia fared much better than it did last year when Hurricane Matthew hit. There were far fewer downed trees on roads and houses. Power outages were fewer and shorter. Irma's slight turn to the west affected the way it impacted Florida. It also lessened damage in this area while striking harder parts of Georgia farther west and north into Atlanta. Selfishly, I appreciated Irma's altered path.
A week before Irma's arrival, many local residents started loading up on bottled water, bread and other emergency supplies. It was hard to find parking places at some stores. I don't know what they did with all that bread and water when the storm passed by so quickly. Maybe it was donated to be taken to people in need elsewhere.
Hurricane preparation does not have to be so hectic and expensive. Water from the city system or private wells can be stored in ordinary containers (water, milk, juice, etc.). This water is safe, as safe as the water you buy in plastic bottles, which often comes directly from some other city's water system. Water can also be collected in larger containers, like buckets, and used to flush toilets. Tip: store buckets in the tub.
With a little forethought, it is possible to stockpile ice. Fill any sealable container with water, leaving space for expansion and put it into the freezer section of the refrigerator. These can be kept in portable coolers until needed. So can ice cubes made in the freezer section. If there is a power outage, these containers of ice should be placed in both the refrigerator and freezer sections to retain the cold. Keep drinking water and other consumables in a cooler to avoid opening the refrigerator.
These things might sound like small-time penny-pinching and maybe they are. Born during the Great Depression to parents who had to "make do" to get by, I learned lessons in careful use of resources by lecture and example. I also see as sacrilege the glut of discarded water bottles that despoil God's earth and seas.
As was true with Harvey, Irma called out armies of heroes great and small. Many are still working long hours in high heat and humidity to restore electric power and otherwise make people safe. Heroes are those who save, help and heal in dangerous or distressing circumstances.
Lewis Grizzard, Georgia's humane humorist dead far too soon, wrote a book entitled, "Shoot Low. They're Riding Shetland Ponies." It was about ordinary people who are hidden heroes. Grizzard regularly spotlighted the uncommon in common folk. Irma did the same.
Locally, churches and other community groups converted themselves into aid stations, preparing and serving thousands of meals to those impacted by the storm. Then they loaded up food and all sorts of other supplies and went to Brunswick, hard hit by tidal-surge flooding. There was cooked food, food in big grocery bags, all delivered with hugs by more than 1,000 volunteers, many of whom were senior citizens. They went again the next day over roads and streets still strewn with storm debris. "As you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)
In the face of the hatred, rancor, fighting and murder that characterize our nation at this time, such powerful demonstrations of love through action reassert who we are. It reminds us of the uncommon greatness of common folk. May we be emboldened to insist that this is who we are now and will always be.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.