I was planning, this morning, to write about the total solar eclipse that Sarah, Shelby and I witnessed just a week ago. As we sat on the banks of the Oconoluftee River in North Carolina, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains and watched the sun disappear, I was speechless, awed, and felt transcendent.
That was the plan, at least. We had a family vacation to those mountains, topped off by the eclipse, and I was sure it would still be at the forefront of my mind when I sat down to write.
But it’s not. The memories and pure joy at what I witnessed are still present, certainly, but a little rain storm has consumed my heart and thoughts since last week.
Hurricane Harvey, for me, has brought to light other memories. In 1999, an 18-year-old me was sitting near the coast of North Carolina on Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, weathering Hurricane Floyd. Dennis, the first Hurricane I had ever experienced in my life, had hit us just a few weeks before, and we were no worse for wear. As a young Marine, sitting in a hardened barracks, we felt invincible. We had parties, simply because we didn’t have to go to work for a few days, and we weren’t allowed to leave the base. We watched bands upon bands upon bands of rain fall, with bubbling clouds and wind blowing so hard that grass was being ripped out. We went outside and played in the wind and rain and mud, because most of us had never seen anything like it, and to be fair, we were 18-year-old dumb-asses.
We were having “innocent fun”. That is, until Floyd did what hurricanes do. It moved inland, dumped unheard of amounts of rain (at the time), and flooded eastern North Carolina before weakening and moving north the next day.
The floodwaters took weeks to recede and drain to the ocean. Being a military base situated in the heart of the worst of it, we were called upon to assist with rescues and, for my part, mostly cleanup.
And it is at this stage where the some of the most disturbing images I have seen are flashing back with the current hurricane hitting Texas. It was no longer “fun”. As fatal floodwaters recede, things are revealed. Things that a young man, 600 miles from his hometown and everything he had ever known, was tasked with dealing with. I refuse to go into specifics here, but suffice to say, the flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was far, far more fatal than any wind or storm surge, and it wasn’t known until weeks later just how fatal it was.
The sparsely populated area I found myself in had more hogs than people. We figured that we were just cleaning up some flooded farms, because the waste lagoons for the hogs had over-topped and began contaminating drinking water downstream with millions of gallons of filth. With shovels and wheelbarrows, we were general labor, and we weren’t allowed to say “no”.
Here’s the thing...hog farms are, in general, maintained by a hog farmer. It’s their livelihood, so it makes sense why they wouldn’t want to leave their own homes or animals to weather the storms alone. Many of those farmers drowned. There is no sugar coating it. They drowned, and I was discovering this first hand with my own eyes, rather than through a news report or hearsay. Twitter and Facebook and drones and streaming live video didn’t exist yet. Hell, being in the military, we had “cutting edge, real time communication”...through a FAX machine and military-grade walkie-talkies. Welcome back to the 90's, folks.
Almost 20 years later, and a hurricane is hitting Texas. People are witnessing it through all of the technology progress we've made in two decades. But it’s not moving on just yet...it’s been sitting there for 4 days and counting. It’s not hitting hog farms and fields...it’s hitting the fourth largest city in America. It made widows 4 days ago at landfall, and it’s still in the process of making widows. To hear that, as of this morning, “only” 8 fatalities have been confirmed is heartbreaking, because, let’s be honest here, that’s just “confirmed”. Floyd killed 50+ people in North Carolina...an entire state of 8 million people at the time. There are 6+ million people in just Houston alone.
Sarah being from Texas of course adds to the heartbreak, because I know that there are places and people she knows and loves that are affected firsthand. The reality is though, that this is heartbreaking, just like Katrina was, because I’ve been the person weathering one of these storms. I’ve had to pull a lifeless body from filthy, infested water in pouring, noah’s flood level rain (did I mention that Hurricane Irene ALSO hit North Carolina a few weeks after Floyd? 3 hurricanes in 1.5 months). I’ve seen the fear and hopelessness in a person’s eyes when they’ve lost everything. I’ve handed bottled water and pop-tarts to a shivering, frightened child, and I was basically still a child myself.
It’s goddamned sad. I’m a widower, but frankly, many of the people of Texas have lost much, much more, and it’s still ongoing. It will be actively happening for weeks, as the water finally recedes, and it will affect these people for years to come. I simply can’t begin to imagine writing some “woe-is-me, Megan is dead and she didn’t get to see the eclipse” entry when this is happening. I want to BE there, yet, I don’t want to have to witness what I unfortunately know is coming.
Because I have experienced even just a fragment of what is happening in Texas right now, I know that really, what is going to be needed in the long run is money. It’s not food or water or blood donations. Food and blood both spoil, often before it can get to anyone who needs it, and they always have plenty of water in a situation like this. Blankets and tents may help in the short term, but really, money can buy those for people in need. Money will allow people to rebuild. Money will allow people to purchase clothing and toiletries. Money will allow those affected, both directly and as responders to visit a therapist if needed. Facebook profile pictures, twitter hashtags, and me writing this post are not going to rescue a stranded child on a roof or replace a home that has been destroyed. Those things are not going to refill an oxygen tank or pay funeral expenses, but money will.
Please, PLEASE consider donating even $1 to the Red Cross or any other legitimate organization that has boots on the ground, and knows firsthand what is needed. Harvey has affected and IS affecting not just Houston, but also Louisiana, and further south in Sarah’s hometown of Corpus Christi.