Only hours after the passage of Hurricane Ike, every survivor left standing in the rubble understood that far more than houses had been leveled by the storm. The body of belief about what Ike would or would not do had been dismembered. Spirits scoured clean of emotion lay empty and desolate as Bolivar beaches. With possessions ravaged and dreams laid waste, incomprehension was rampant. Victims stared toward the horizon with thoughts as scattered and broken as the plywood debris fields that seemed to stretch into infinity.
Even at the time, there were victims willing to acknowledge that human factors played a role in the devastation. Pride kept boats at unsound moorings and families in homes that were certain to be inundated. Unfounded trust in a last-minute turn of the storm’s path led some to reject advice from wiser and more experienced folk to pack their cars and leave. Occasionally, simple recklessness chose to gamble on the final outcome, continuing to count cards of wind and surge as though pushing back from the table would be an option if the game seemed to be getting out of hand.
But in the end, as entire communities stood looking out across the stunning collage of broken boards, shattered lives and shards of memory, I heard not a word of anger or recrimination directed toward another human being. There was astonishment, stunned silence, wounded grief and despair at the depth and the breadth of loss. There was frustration and anxiety that could surge into panic at the slightest provocation. From time to time there were flashes of rage against the unfairness of life, the arbitrary nature of institutional decisions and the glacial slowness of response. But although it probably happened, I never saw one person rage directly against another. Viewing the carnage, everyone appeared to be in agreement: there may have been wrong decisions, inadequate preparation and less than helpful responses, but in the end it was nature which had done the damage. Before that overwhelming power, everyone was equal. (more…)