During what should have been a relatively carefree Labor Day weekend featuring sunny skies, last minute backyard BBQues and dips in the pool before the summer closing, many of us remained fixed to our televisions as we watched the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey unfold in Texas and Louisiana.
Deciding that lounging by the pool seemed a bit too frivolous in the face of such devastating tragedy, I knew I wanted to help. I connected with several friends and colleagues, tagging alongside relief efforts coordinated through the American Red Cross, and several local businesses and churches.
From government workers to faith communities to average ‘Good Samaritans,’ hundreds of humanitarians descended upon the Houston area from across the country, mobilizing to help the thousands of victims whose lives were impacted by this devastating Cat 4 natural disaster.
The scene immediately overwhelmed me, unfolding massive amounts of flooding, debris, and displaced lives. As chaotic as the situation was, I was impressed by the synergy between the various groups of people coming together for a common cause – local, state and federal government, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, faith communities – all lending hands to their fellow neighbors, serving as compassionate ears and shoulders to lean on. Volunteers worked tirelessly to distribute food, water, clothing, toys, blankets and household supplies. They helped sift and sort through piles of memories, preoccupy children with games, and console and comfort along the way. Not unlike the unified efforts and show of support here in North Carolina during Hurricane Matthew last year.
Yes, North Carolinians know a thing or two about helping their neighbors during crisis, near or far – and there were plenty of us on the ground in Texas, ready to help.
- The American Red Cross sent 16 volunteers to Texas from the Western North Carolina Region to assist with humanitarian efforts.
- Emergency and disaster relief crews traveled from North Carolina to Texas; including 5 Swiftwater/Flood Rescue Teams, 2 Helo-Aquatic Rescue Teams, several management officials, and area coordinators from North Carolina Emergency Management.
- The North Carolina National Guard sent 2 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters and 8 airmen.
- Western North Carolina sent 6 Fire and EMS Rescue Technicians from Charlotte, Asheville and Transylvania to Texas, and local law enforcement agencies collected food, clothing and household supplies.
- Samaritan’s Purse deployed more than 60 volunteers from North Wilkesboro, North Carolina to Texas.
- The United Methodist Committee on Relief and the North Carolina Baptists on Mission recruited volunteer disaster responders, collected donations, and assembled relief kits.
- Animal safety and welfare advocates joined efforts through local SPCA chapters and the Humane Society of the United States to help rescue animals, and provide temporary shelters and food.
- Duke Energy Carolinas deployed 1 transition strike team and 28 total resources to Texas during Hurricane Harvey, including specialized “marsh masters” experienced with flooding (another 1,357 workers/resources were deployed to Florida during Hurricane Irma).
- Many North Carolina nonprofit, public and private organizations worked to raise awareness, donate money, collect supplies and volunteer their time.
So do I regret forgoing the pool for people? Absolutely not.
As overwhelming as an event of this magnitude can be, this experience revealed a singular humanity, working together for a cause that bridged party lines, perspectives and demographics. I was proud to see so many fellow North Carolinians helping those in Texas and beyond. And that unified spirit continued back here in North Carolina as we began to prepare for the unknowns of Hurricane Irma.
It reminded me that people are inherently good, and to have faith in humanity despite the divisively heated rhetoric and pervasive turmoil in the world today. It reminded me that the “collective we” can bring about positive change and accomplish big things when focusing on shared goals, for the good of our country, state and people. It reminded me that there is no amount of help too little or small — help is help. It reminded me not to forget those victims in our local communities still struggling to recover from last year’s Hurricane Matthew. And it reminded me of the great collaborations and inspiring work my colleagues and IEI partners set their minds to drive forward on behalf of our state each day.
Nan Sanseverino is the Communications Director at the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University.