As I watched part of a building collapse from a small window of the hospital that my family evacuated to, I wondered what my house looked like at this point. On Friday, August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley, a category 4 storm, ripped through my hometown causing widespread flooding, wind damage, and devastation. I imagine that many people who have been affected by Hurricane Harvey had similar thoughts as they took shelter, escaped the rising flood waters, or waited to hear news of home from faraway places. Knowing that something so large and out of your control is happening around you can feel paralyzing and frustrating. Similar to communities struck by Harvey, our town came together: rival high schools shared a campus, neighbors helped one another repair and rebuild, and we all worked together to define the new normal. Everyone who lived in Port Charlotte can tell you what life was like before and after Charley.
What advice can I offer at this time? One is to communicate with neighbors, friends, and family. Throughout recovery, information becomes difficult to find and knowing who has the right information can be even more difficult. My family would anxiously listen to the radio to find out when power might come back on or when FEMA offices would be open. In the age of social media, information seems to spread quickly, but I would suggest to listen to those you trust, look to community leaders and realize that everything will take at least twice as long as normal to process. Keep Texas Beautiful has curated a variety of resources that may be helpful to those looking for information or seeking resources while they rebuild.
I would also offer this advice to community organizations and groups: listen. Our town was overwhelmed with clothes, shoes, water and other supplies that many people needed, but many others did not. Find out where needs are, determine ways to best address those needs and understand that those needs will change over time. Once my family's house was cleaned up, the roof repaired, and the power turned on - our needs changed. We needed help processing paperwork, figuring out the systems and finding ways we could help our neighbors now that our crisis was over. Always keep in mind that different communities need different things. Remembering those who might not speak the loudest remains a lesson to be learned after every natural disaster. To my fellow nonprofit workers and leaders, remember to listen, learn and provide to those you might not know yet. Keep Texas Beautiful is working closely with affected affiliates to provide resources as requested - please take a look at our donation form or contact us if you are interested in supporting this effort.
My heart goes out to all those affected by the storm and I hope that recovery comes sooner than later. Until then, keep working together, keep communicating your needs, and keep listening to communities.
Keep Austin Beautiful is currently running a flood cleanup supply drive for Hurricane Harvey victims. To learn more about how to donate needed materials please visit: www.keepaustinbeautiful.org