Watching the devastation of Hurricane Sandy unfold is one of the few reasons that 24/7 news is a good thing.  Trying to understand the enormity of the impact is going to take awhile to process.  I’ve lived through tornadoes, high winds, floods, ice storms, and watched a hurricane approach my location.  I both volunteered and worked for the American Red Cross and took disaster training in such things as damage assessment, shelter management, disaster communications and so many other things I’ve forgotten.  I actually was on the job during ice storms, 9/11, fires, and small floods.  I worked with VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) and first responders in disaster training.  It brings me some sense of calm to know that the people who know what to do are in place to assist storm victims in putting their lives back together.

Two things I always remember from all my training is that shelters are opened with the hope of closing as soon as possible.  That is the goal.  Nobody wants to stay long in a shelter.  The other is that the size of the disaster doesn’t matter to the person affected.  A single home house fire is a disaster to that family.  Disasters come in all sizes.

While vacationing in Florida, my friends and I found ourselves in the path of Hurricane Wilma.  We sat for days watching it slowly stall and then make its way in our direction.  The news is different in hurricane areas, showing maps of evacuation routes, directions for protecting your family and friends and your property.  I noticed that people who go through it a lot had a system.  Many had plastic tubs that they packed methodically and packed in their cars, seeming to know what to select to take with them.  Making the decision was the hardest part.  Many decided to stay, which I can understand.  Why try to leave in a long line of cars when you don’t have a place to go, don’t know if there will be gas or rooms?  Take your chances and protect your property?  Which decision to make.  In a tourist area like Florida, there is the problem of those tourists.  Restaurants stayed open longer than they wanted to accommodate the visitors.  I understand from a business standpoint.  When you close for the storm, you are automatically going to lose business, your employees are going to lose income.  Tough decisions.  For the tourists, there is the issue of getting out of there.  What if the flights are full?  What if the airports close and all the cars are rented and where do you go anyway?

Cleaning up is the worst after flooding.  I’ve been in homes where the mud and debris is soaked into furniture, walls, floors, books, appliances.  The smells, the critters, the filth…   The good news is that there is a resilience in people that comes out in these times.  Even though there are some who take advantage with clean up scams, looting, and other despicable acts, the majority rise up and reach out to each other.  Those volunteers I spoke about will be activated and there to lend a hand to help clean up or just to hold.  Hugs will abound. Neighbors will bond.  Families and friends will be tested and most will realize that they are grateful to have survived.  The most haunting image I have of any disaster is of a woman in India after an earthquake.  She had lost her home, her business, and 12 members of her family.  She was just sitting there.  How do you even get the strength to stand up?

My heart goes out to the people affected by this storm.  To help them rebuild, give to a reputable charity.  Give to the general fund so that surplus funds can be used for other disasters. There will be more disasters, natural and man-made. There always are because that is the way of nature and the world.

I leave you with an image of Hurricane Wilma approaching the Florida coast…how deceptively beautiful it looked before it slammed the area…  

Take care.