If there was ever a moment for unity and peace to prevail, that moment is now.
For the last week, the states of Texas and Louisiana have experienced a natural disaster of epic proportions. Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, August 25th, as a Cat 4 hurricane in Rockport, Texas, which was decimated, along with nearby towns like Port Aransas and Refugio. Today, Harvey’s historic tale of devastation seems to be dissipating, as it has now been downgraded to a tropical depression. However, there are still heavy rains that have been pushed north into Arkansas and Tennessee, and east on through Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. It will be another several days before Harvey ultimately dissolves. But, it will be a long time before Harvey’s story ends.
After making initial landfall Friday evening at Rockport, Harvey quickly downgraded overnight to a Cat 1 hurricane by Saturday morning. As it stretched further inland towards Victoria and beyond, within 24 hours, Harvey was further downgraded to a tropical storm. However, this did not mean Harvey’s potential for destruction weakened. Harvey continued wreaking havoc, reaching as far away as San Antonio and Austin, leaving record rain totals, emergency flooding conditions and billions in property damages in its wake. But as we all now know, Harvey was just getting started.
“Houston, We Have A Problem!”
After thrashing Rockport and surrounding areas, Harvey continued its devastating journey, northeast along the Texas Gulf Coast shoreline, ravaging town after town all the way up the coastline to Galveston and Houston, bringing catastrophic damage with it, every tragic mile of its trek. By Saturday, the national news was squarely focusing on the developing crisis conditions in Houston, our nation’s 4th largest city. By the time Harvey moved on from Houston, large swaths of area throughout the Bayou City and surrounding counties were underwater. To put this in perspective, the area just around Houston and its immediately surrounding areas was roughly equivalent in size to the state of Connecticut.
Houston, which is only 80 feet above sea level, is a town built on a system of bayous and reservoirs. These are prone to flood in much less threatening conditions than Harvey wielded. Reports are circulating that some of the reservoirs and dams may not hold, which would further exacerbate an already mammoth crisis. Harvey dumped more than 50 total inches of rain in about 72 hours in Houston alone. This staggering amount of rain broke the previous record for Houston, which was wrought by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978. It also accounts for about half of the annual rain totals for Houston in only three days. So far, the volume of rain that Harvey has mercilessly dropped across Texas and Louisiana is in the trillions and trillions of gallons, reportedly enough water to fill every NFL and Division I College stadium in America…100 times over! And, the onslaught continues.
Harvey, What Have You Wrought?
The physical destruction and human suffering that Harvey’s savage winds and torrential rains are wreaking is profoundly heartbreaking. An untold number of people have been displaced from their homes in order to escape the dangers of unprecedented rising water. The scope is so large that governmental services were initially unable to keep up, leading state and local officials to enlist the public’s assistance in rescue efforts. Courageous and compassionate souls came from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and all around Texas with their own personal boats to assist in the massive rescue efforts required to bring people to safety.
Harvey’s rain and winds delivered an unprecedented blow to Texas. Homes, businesses, and public infrastructure that has been destroyed or compromised will have to be slowly rebuilt over the coming years. Behind the physical rebuilding is the human story of lives helplessly shattered and traumatized. While the human recovery is not as universally visible as the physical destruction, it is no less real. Reports are beginning to surface that the ultimate financial cost of just the physical recovery could reach northwards to as much as $200 billion. The human cost of recovery will never be known.
Harvey’s Devastating Reach Is Unprecedented
After having its way with Houston and the south Texas Gulf Coast, Harvey’s savage journey continued east along the I-10 corridor through Beaumont and on into Louisiana. Even as the national news focused on the emergency in Houston through Tuesday, the Beaumont-Port Arthur area was being inundated and is now as devastated as Houston. The Golden Triangle, which includes Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, had already been on the “dirty side” of Harvey the entire time Houston was being pounded. By the time Harvey had officially moved into the Golden Triangle on Tuesday, the area was already in crisis. After two straight days of unprecedented rains, the entire area, especially Port Arthur was on the brink of total devastation.
Beyond Beaumont, Harvey continues to extend itself north into the “big thicket” of east Texas, where small towns like Kountze, about an hour north of Beaumont, were completely flooded. Farther east on into Louisiana tropical storm Harvey’s reach extended all the way to New Orleans. As of today, Harvey has been downgraded again to a tropical depression. However, not before large parts of Louisiana suffered their own emergency flood conditions, continuing to add to the cost of recovery from Harvey’s epic rains and shearing winds. Once the winds die and the rain stops, the flood waters have to flow somewhere. Wherever it goes, it will continue to bring life threatening flood conditions for days after the actual rain events have ended. Obviously, both Texas and Louisiana are operating under State and Federal Emergency declarations.
American Tragedy, Or America’s Brightest Moment?
Like many of you, I have friends and family whose lives have been completely overturned by the events of the past week. I consider Houston and the Golden Triangle area to be my hometowns, places where I spent most all of my life, before moving to Austin in 1992. These humble words that attempt to document these catastrophic events pale against the magnitude and scope of this unprecedented natural disaster. When all is said and done, Harvey’s story is certain to eclipse the Katrina narrative, simply because of the range and reach of its devastation. However, as disastrous as Harvey has been, this is the kind of tragedy that tends to bring out the best in humanity. In the aftermath, depending on how we respond, we have the potential to not only rebuild the lives of those directly impacted, but also the potential to transform and evolve our collective consciousness for the better.
The indiscriminate nature of disasters like Harvey are great equalizers. They serve to remind us of our common bond as members of the human race. In a nation that has been experiencing a divisive rancor in its public discourse, a tragedy like Harvey presents an opportunity for us all to lay aside our social and political differences and come together in unity. We have the chance to neutralize our differences and unite in a shared experience for the common good. It is my sincere hope that we do. This is not just a tragedy for Texas and Louisiana, this is an American tragedy. Yet, it could also ultimately prove to be one of America’s brightest, shining moments, if we allow it to quell the divisive tenor of our collective dialogue. The choice is ours. I pray we choose wisely. I pray we choose unity. I pray we choose peace.
If there was ever a moment for unity and peace to prevail, that moment is now.
The recovery efforts for Harvey will take years to ultimately resolve. While there is certainly an immediate need for relief efforts, there will also be opportunities to provide relief and recovery assistance over the long term. Unity Church of the Hills will be participating in many efforts over time to help where we can. While those plans are still developing in concert with Unity Worldwide Ministries and Unity of Houston in particular, we have already started our efforts in providing immediate relief. If you are moved to help in those efforts, please see Tammy Lorraine’s post “Helping Those Affected By Hurricane Harvey” for a list of suggested ways that you can coordinate your assistance efforts in concert with UCOH’s efforts. In times like these, we have the opportunity to be a blessing to those suffering from the trauma of natural disaster. In so doing, we are blessed tenfold. May those blessings spread to all of humankind.