The Story After the Storm: Sandy, Harvey and Irma

Recently I turned on the television and saw a news reporter having a live phone conversation with a woman stranded on a roof with her family. The footage showed Hurricane Harvey submerging Houston in unforgiving waters. The storm had made landfall, ravaging not only Houston and Corpus Christi but the surrounding communities as well.

Within seconds, I was crying and panicking, unable to change the channel and begging my significant other to do so.

The woman’s desperation conjured a familiar scene from my past: Hurricane Sandy. But I was luckier than many.

Wading home in knee-deep water to find my front door wide open and seeing everything I owned floating around crushed me. In the hours before the storm, I was just like everyone else, going about my day-to-day life. The next thing I knew, my home was filled with 5 feet of water and I was experiencing something unimaginable, unable to plan for more than one day at a time.

It wasn’t until I watched the news and read social media coverage of Hurricane Harvey that I realized how traumatizing Hurricane Sandy and my recovery from it had been for me. I understood immediately the challenges in front of those affected by the storm in Texas, as well as for those bracing themselves for Hurricane Irma.

The moment you realize you don’t have a home is unreal. Many people, including myself, never return to their homes after a hurricane like Sandy or Harvey. It’s scarring to have everything wash away, and the process of rebuilding is long and daunting. Each day brings stress, doubt and anxiety surrounding what to do next. You spend countless hours, days and months sifting through the wreckage, salvaging what you can and tearfully bringing the rest to the curb.

Years before the storm, a great-aunt had gifted me a necklace that my grandfather had made for her while he served during World War II. The necklace was made of tiny reddish-brown seeds that he had collected and strung together into a beautiful piece of jewelry. I treasured that necklace, but it’s just a memory now — one of many lost keepsakes that can’t be replaced.

Rebuilding is not simple. It includes many long calls to insurance companies, FEMA and the bank; figuring out where to store what you salvaged; doing many loads of laundry; and making lists upon lists of important documents and items to replace (many of which you never will) — basically, taking an inventory of your life. While your universe stands still, life around you continues, and you have to acclimate.

Entering my apartment after the storm.
Entering my apartment after the storm.

In a situation like this where your life is washed away abruptly, you have to rely on those around you. This experience can be incredibly isolating, and I can’t imagine going through it alone. It’s difficult to ask for help — a place to stay, an extension on a mortgage payment, even a meal — and even tougher sometimes to accept that you need it. Recovering from Sandy was a challenging situation for me, but I so appreciate how those who took me into their homes understood my struggle was just beginning.

Knowing the difficulties I experienced, I can’t fathom how the people devastated by Harvey and Irma will begin to recover. Events like these don’t only impact those directly hit, but others in the community as well. Neighbors lend each other generators, strangers provide meals, families share their homes and friends donate necessities. Recovery requires sacrifices from the entire community.

Even when the images of houses and highways submerged in water fade away, we have to remember that survivors and victims of natural disasters are not just part of a breaking news story. Their experiences and recovery deserve our attention and support long after the storm’s end.

As we begin to grasp the full impact of Harvey and Irma, let’s make sure to join those affected on the road to recovery in whatever ways we can and help them return to some form of normalcy. Animal shelters, food banks and disaster recovery programs are just a few types of organizations that will help individuals, families and communities recover today and in the weeks and months — and even years — to come.

If you’d like to make a donation to recovery efforts, a list of recommended organizations can be found here. In addition to these contributions, consider contacting your local legislators to support recovery relief policies and programs that help those facing the long-term effects of these disasters.

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