Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"If I had known, I would never have bought this house"

As my team and I are driving through the post-flood areas of Monroe, Louisiana, we stop and ask residents about flooding depths for the recent disaster.  Mostly, people are willing to talk - we serve as confessor and sounding board and, eventually, hopefully, as financial intercessor with the funding folks.

And people want us to hear what their experience was.

So more than once, I entered into a conversation with people involved with a recently minted, and unannounced disaster, and began to hear their story.  And every time, the story involves a combination of limited resources, inability to move, repetitive damages ("this is the third time in five years we have had to move our stuff off the floor to avoid getting it wet!") and poor infrastructure.

Believe me, if these folks had the resources to not live in the floodplain, they would not live in the floodplain.

So I hopped out of the car at 3pm to ask an older man sitting in his driveway.

"You lost?" he asked, not unkindly.

Fair enough. We had driven through the neighborhood twice.

"No, sir.  Just working with a recovery group to see if we can figure out where the floodwaters came, and how high they were.  Did your house flood?"

"Yeah, it did!  Come on inside and I'll show you!"

Once I am inside, his wife explains to me from her chair in the den that he has Alzheimers, and that he confuses the different flooding events.

The house has been updated to allow for cleanup.  Flooring that can be squeegied.  Concrete blocks at the ready to put sofa up higher, out of the expected floodwaters.

Let me say that again.  Expected floodwaters.

Because even people who can't afford to move can afford concrete blocks.

While I was there, their daughter called, and she wanted to know WHO THE HELL WAS IN THE HOUSE AND WHO SENT HIM TO COME INSIDE!?!

I explained, as calmly as I could, that nobody sent me.  That I understood the concern.  And that I had had zero intention of coming in.  I just asked a question, and had come inside by invitation.  The wife nodded, because my explanation made sense.  And conveyed that to the daughter, who was doing her job to protect the family.

As I was taking my leave, the old man looked at me and said, "We keep getting flooded, over and over again.  If I had known it was going to be like this, I never would have bought this house."

That story.  Repeated in communities across the parish, the state, the nation.  Ending up with limited hope, limited options, and no opportunities, and then being blamed - in the media, in the federal agencies that support recovery, even in the charitable organizations who are trying to help - for being too stupid to realize the danger.  For choosing poorly.

And that is those media outlets that even cover it.  Have you seen the damage from the Louisiana floods in March?  Any coverage at all?  Is there a demand that Congress support these folks?

If so, I haven't seen it.

It keeps me up at night.  It makes me wake up angry, and determined to see past what can be done, to what needs to be done.  To look outside the box for solutions that will help build communities, provide opportunities, and introduce basic services to areas that don't have them.

For all that Reagan was right about the nine most terrifying words in the English language*, it is a moral imperative that we use those words.  And that we use the opportunity to help people. To provide information to communities reeling after a disaster.

To live up to the position that I hold, as public servant.

*The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.


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