It’s all Hurricane Harvey news and talk, round-the-clock, here in south Texas. News reports start and end with it, weather is the topic of conversation, most have a story to tell about where they were this past weekend when the winds howled and the rains came.
Driving out to the hardest hit areas, it builds…first a pole down and a wire on the ground. Billboards blown completely out and now skeletal frames of metal advertising nothing as they bear silent witness to the force of the storm. Debris strewn along the roadside, a ton of brush and leaves down and now being stacked up like snowbanks on the side of a wintry northern street after a blizzard. The most heart-rending is seeing the homes and businesses with roofs torn off and ruined furniture and personal belongings stacked out front for someone, sometime, to come and take away. A stack of probably 200 chairs from a hotel where the windows blew out and rain ruined them all. My utility guide sighing, “oh man, that was such a great restaurant. Terrific seafood.”
But among the carnage, small signs of hope, courage, perseverance and survival. I swear the sun comes out from behind storm clouds exactly at the moment you pass a Salvation Army handing out clothing and necessities or a make-shift barbecue set up in a parking lot feeding one and all for free, staffed by volunteers. Your faith is restored, at least somewhat, when you see a hand-painted sign on the roadside that says “Free Food, Water and Cleaning Supplies" with a red arrow directing you to a small shop to come and get whatever you may need that they have.
In a perfect juxtaposition, a few minutes later you marvel at the confounding nature of humanity, when a security guard stationed in one town tells you he’s there to watch for looting. “They hit the liquor stores first,” he says. “No electricity, no security.”
One of the places that does have electricity is a convenience store in the middle of a debris-lined main street on a thin peninsula of land running down the Gulf Coast. It’s close to noon, and the parking lot is absolutely jammed with people trying to get in and out for a cold beverage and snacks and something to eat — who knows where or when the next opportunity for this will be. And as you exit the utility truck, wearing a safety vest, work-boots and jeans and hardhat that says “AEP TX” on it, you are seen as one of the hard-working men and women who put so much time and effort into getting the electricity back to those in need. And so it surprises yo and pleases you when the first thing you hear, getting out of the truck, is:
“Cannot thank you enough. Seriously, we CANNOT thank you guys enough for what you are doing here.”
I deflect, of course, but in pointing to my AEP TX guide, who IS deserving of this unexpected but wholly deserved praise, I agree with this man, and say to each of you in the utility world who work storms and storm recovery to provide life-saving electricity to the rest of us…
Cannot Thank You Enough.