Like many of you, I’ve been watching the devastation caused by flooding in Nashville and other parts of Tennessee. And I have a empathy for those folks that I might not have had two years ago. You would think that as a long-time Red Cross disaster volunteer (18+ years) I would have seen about every kind of natural disaster that can impact humans. BUT, and it’s a big but, the worst disaster I ever experienced was the flooding that entered my house on June 7th, 2008. It wasn’t the biggest, most dangerous or even most costly disaster that I had ever responded to, it was just the most personal. Because this time it was my stuff that was damaged or destroyed and my family, friends and neighbors who were impacted. It makes all the difference.
- I, who have all these years of experience in helping others recover from disasters, can admit that it took me a year before I could finally put the last few items back in the area that flooded. I still haven’t put in permanent flooring because, even though it is irrational, I can’t face tearing it up again. I still get a little stressed out when big rain storms move in (like Nashville our area got too much rain in too short a time).
While I feel badly today for those Tenessee families, I feel even worse for them in the upcoming years. Note that I said YEARS, because the floods will impact their lives for far longer than you might think. Nearly two years after the flood that covered our community for just one day, we still have families who don’t have permanent housing, who are still waiting for the promised “solution” of a buy-out and who can’t seem to resume their pre-flood lives. Children cry when it storms and yet many people in our area think that everything has returned to normal.
My heart aches for the days, weeks and months of frustration, anger and hurt that those Tennessee families will be facing. It ends up being far more devastating than the actual flood. The applications to FEMA, insurance carriers and the SBA are hard to focus on when you are trying to salvage your belongings. And, in our area, many middle-class families didn’t think they would qualify for FEMA because they made too much money (any homeowner can apply for FEMA help, regardless of income). They were wrong and they suffered for it.
The inspectors who come out from the various agencies (government and insurance) seem to be operating off of completely different sets of rules. One inspector might claim that you had minimal damages, while another might consider your home totaled. There just seemed to be no rhythm or reason to the system.
While most families were able to get help and support for their various claims, it still took a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately some families are just too disheartened or tired to make a fuss and as a result, they often get the short end of the stick from the very agencies that were put in place to help, including the insurance companies that they had religiously paid monthly. Add to that the insult of a declining economy over the past two years and you have a true recipe for suffering.
Countless families have since filed for bankruptcy, been split by divorce or needed mental health help. In many cases these family crises could have been avoided if certain types of community support were in place sooner. But a community that has never HAD a large disaster is at a huge disadvantage, they simply have no experience in recovery. The long-term recovery groups that started after the June 2008 floods in Indiana have been learning as they go. While they have done many, many things right, most of their directors and volunteers will tell you that there are a few things they would have done differently. For the last several months, those groups have been trying to gather up best practices and capture them for future use.
I hope that some of the lessons we’ve learned in our area will be able to help the folks down south recover faster and stronger than we did. At the very least, our community is much better prepared to handle the next big thing that comes along to rock our world. So, to everyone in Tennessee who was flooded, hang in there, we know how you’re feeling and we wish you a quick recovery.
This is a video made one year after the June 2008 Floods & Tornado in Johnson County, Indiana.