|I don't know who this lady is - got her photo online - but this pile behind her? |
This is pretty much what was in front of every house in the neighborhood this morning.
When Hurricane Irene hit, the area right around our house mostly suffered watery basements (which the local fire company pumped out regularly for a few days) and power outages. (We know at least one friend who still hasn't regained power since the storm hit a week ago.) Inconvenient, surely. Inconvenient during the storm, and for several days afterwards. Some lost food. Occasional damage to a home or a car from a falling tree. Stuff like that.
But the congregation where I teach is centered in an area prone to some pretty heavy flooding, and an email 'call' came after the storm, looking for volunteers to help a congregant family remove waterlogged furniture from their home in Lake Hiawatha. I didn't know my schedule for the weekend when I got the email, so I called Sunday morning to see if I was still needed, or if enough people had already volunteered. I was told that ten or twelve people would be there, but they didn't know how big a job it was going to be, yet. About the house I was told, "the river ran through it."
Lake Hiawatha is a lovely area, with well-maintained properties, family-sized houses and comfortably wide roadways. Driving towards the house in question this morning, I found myself thinking, 'this area doesn't *look* like it was hit too hard.' And then I turned the corner onto the road two blocks from my destination.
I was now driving through what looked like a grotesque version of 'move-out day' in a college town. In front of every house was a huge discard pile that looked like it contained the entire contents of the house - everything from appliances and furniture to children's toys and chunks of drywall. Big letters, boxes and X's spray-painted on the sides of several houses marked, I was told, which were to be condemned. A closer look at some of the cars revealed a dirty water-line up by the car windows, or headlights half-filled with water.
Inside the house we were working on, which was likely a good representation of every other house on that block, we found - among other soggy, moldy, slimy, overpoweringly smelly, once-precious things - a waist-high waterline and a refrigerator that had toppled to the floor because it was too top-heavy to float when the river came through.
An American Red Cross vehicle drove through the neighborhood at lunchtime, serving as a food truck. They honked to alert residents (many of whom were working on house clean-outs) of the arrival of a free hot lunch and bottles of water. Volunteers inside the 'food truck' hailed from Michigan and Jacksonville. Their arrival in Lake Hiawatha, friendly faces handing out lunch and water, got us all out into the fresh air for a while - breathing, conversing, communing, reflecting. A much-needed break before re-donning face masks and rubber gloves, and heading back in for more.
I have a friend who has been volunteering for the American Red Cross throughout her retirement, traveling to disaster areas across the Eastern U.S. It never occurred to me before to ask what, exactly, she was doing there. I always imagined their role as something kind of medical. Ish. This was simply human. Sustaining. People helping people get through. People helping the helpers help.
I didn't take any photos today. It *occurred* to me, for maybe a second, to take a shot of the neighborhood. But for all the photos I've seen of disaster sites throughout the years, somehow, driving through an neighborhood like this, actually *being* there - it just would have seemed disrespectful somehow. Of the people working to clear their homes, which mean so much to them, of so many things that also have meaning to them. There are enough photos on the internet for everyone to get their fill.
Last night, our family went to see the Somerset Patriots play. They were hosting 'Hurricane Relief Night' - co-sponsored by the American Red Cross. The game was free to everyone. Parking was free. We were given bobbleheads of a player who hit a home run that night his first time at bat, then batted in two more runs his second time up. A collection was taken for the American Red Cross. We contributed something, of course. But I'm thinking next time, we might try to contribute something more.
An article about Lake Hiawatha's evacuation:
American Red Cross re: Hurricane Irene: http://www.redcross.org/portal/site/en/menuitem.53fabf6cc033f17a2b1ecfbf43181aa0/?vgnextoid=19eddb420d602310VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD&vgnextchannel=e6c7aaf9bc911310VgnVCM10000089f0870aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default
Somerset Patriots home page: http://www.somersetpatriots.com
Article from whence the above photo was borrowed: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/08/hurricane_irene_cleanup_and_re.html