Although I live in New Jersey, I have ties to Texas and Florida so Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma affected me on a personal level. I’ve never been to Texas myself but my brother lives in Houston. He lived there for a few years for his medical research job before returning to New Jersey for medical school. Then he took a year off from medical school to do more research in Houston. When he finished medical school he found Houston calling him for a third time. He was assigned a medical residency at Baylor University Hospital.
When Hurricane Harvey hit my family and I were naturally concerned for my brother. When we called or texted him to make sure he was okay he brushed aside our concerns and assured us everything was fine where he was. He was off of work for the week because of the hurricane and the hospital he worked at was being evacuated the next day but where he was it was just drizzling and the streets weren’t flooded at all. To prove his point he texted me a picture of his non-flooded street. Then he told me he was bored so he was going for a jog.
The picture my brother was painting of Houston was in stark contrast to the picture the media was painting of it. CNN was giving accounts and showing images of neighborhoods underwater, people and animals who had been displaced, devastated or were dead as a result of Harvey. There were people who had been trapped by the storm and were desperately awaiting rescue. If they were lucky rescue came-usually in the form of rescue professionals or good samaritans who were using boats to navigate routes that a few days earlier had been navigated by cars. While these people were grateful to have been rescued, many of them had lost everything. Their homes had been destroyed and so had their lives as they knew them. Words like ‘catastrophic’, “unprecedented and ‘apocalyptic’ were used to describe the situation.
The fact that the situation was so dire in some areas of Houston but things were perfectly fine where my brother was impressed on me just how big a city Houston is. My brother told us not to listen to CNN because they sensationalized and were overly dramatic about everything. So he was basically calling Hurricane Harvey fake news, which is consistent with his affinity for a certain president who (dis) graced Houston with his presence in the aftermath of Harvey. I’ve noticed a change in my brother’s political and world views since he started living in Texas. Let’s just say I don’t consider it to be a change for the better.
Since he was off of work due to the flood he had time to engage in an hour long text message political debate with me. It left me feeling rather exasperated. When he was working as a researcher in Houston he would attend Joel Osteen’s church. I brought up the issue of Osteen refusing to open his church as a shelter for flood victims. He said people were getting outraged over something that wasn’t a big deal. He’s become quite the contrarian. He’ll even argue with you about the weather.
We’d barely had time to process Hurricane Harvey before Hurricane Irma came along. I have stronger ties to Florida than I do Texas. I basically consider Florida to be my second home. I resided there for school for about three years, my parents have a vacation house there that I’ve visited several times, I’ve been on several expeditions to Disney World as well as expeditions to various other areas of Florida such as Key West and Miami.
Getting away from my stepfather was a very positive move for both my mother and me but the one downside was that it meant losing the house in Florida to him. It was truly not just a house but a home. It was a beautiful paradise where we relaxed and had fun. It was a place full of charm, character and spirit. We even called it by an elegant name (the street it was on.)
That house was in one of the areas of Florida that was supposed to be hit the hardest. On the one hand we were attached to the house and didn’t want to see it destroyed. On the other hand it was unlikely that we would ever see the house again so if it was destroyed maybe we wouldn’t feel so sad about not having it anymore. Also the house now belonged exclusively to my stepfather who had released a destructive metaphorical hurricane on our lives that lasted for years so if his house was now destroyed…well….schadenfruede.
The house ended up sustaining only minimal damage but for a while there we were worried. We were only ambivalently worried about my stepfather’s house but we were truly worried for our friend Lucy’s house and for our friend George’s life. George had decided to remain in the area despite the evacuation order. Maybe he needed a more blunt evacuation order like the one issued for an area of Texas during Harvey that asked those who were not evacuating to write their social security numbers on their arm so their bodies could be identified.
George managed to survive the hurricane in one piece but he was so emotionally traumatized by it that now he’s considering leaving Florida for good. To me there’s something ironic about leaving Florida for good because of the trauma you experienced as a result of your refusal to leave it for a few days. Lucy’s house emerged from the hurricane relatively unscathed but her pool cage was damaged. When Lucy asked George if he knew how she could get her damaged pool cage repaired he told her that was an insensitive thing to say when there were people who were really suffering as a result of Irma.
As long as we’re talking about being insensitive, my guilty secret that’s not really a secret is that while I understand that natural disasters are a tragedy and I feel for the people who experience loss as a result of them, when I know I’m safe from them I also find them exciting and fascinating. I was glued to the TV during the hurricanes, enjoying my voyeuristic view in to the disasters that were unfolding.
Of course safety is ultimately more important than thrills or adventure. I was glad to learn that not only was George safe but so was everyone else I know in Florida. That “mark your safe’ feature on Facebook is a wonderful thing. I even found out that the animals I was concerned for were safe. The chickens of Key West had been evacuated with their wings wrapped in newspaper and the six toed cats of the Hemingway house had weathered the storm with the volunteers who had stayed behind. I am sorry for all the people and animals I don’t know personally who did not survive the hurricanes.
Shortly after Irma hit, there was a third powerful storm, Maria. I don’t have any significant ties to Puerto Rico but I did vacation there once as a teenager. It’s a beautiful country that has truly been devastated by Maria. My heart goes out to all its residents.
These natural disasters bring out the best and worst of human nature. There are people who go out of their way to help those who have been impacted by the hurricanes, who open up their hearts, homes and wallets. Then there are jackasses who would rather use tragedy as an opportunity to brag about crowd sizes and insult a society’s infrastructure, who would rather focus on arguing over the national anthem at football games than helping those in need.
All of this while denying that the likely cause of all these hurricanes-global warming- actually exists. Pretty soon there won’t be enough letters in the alphabet to contain all the hurricanes that occur in a year, to say nothing of all the metaphorical man made hurricanes.