Hurricane victims seek holiday helpWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
SOUTH FLORIDA -— The trees are massive, towering, with inconceivably intricate bundles of roots that once sank yards into the tropical soil. They lay on their sides, their invincibility stripped away, tossed aside like splintered baseball bats.
The neighborhoods around Miami display deep scars and wounds. Fences are bashed in, piles of debris line the streets, boarded-up holes stand where windows once framed gardens and yards.
Houses without roofs, or with gaping holes in roofs, dot the neighborhoods, some under large tarps, some left open to the elements. Fallen lights and poles line many sidewalks. The usually verdant layer of green palm tree fronds has been scrubbed away, leaving palm trees with stumps and no leaves. Buildings that have stood along the Intracoastal for decades are cracked, shaken, with walls pulled inches from ceilings and splits in marble floors.
Hurricane Wilma swallowed South Florida on Oct. 24, big enough to straddle the state with one foot in the Gulf, one foot in the Atlantic, its girth fed by the warm waters of the Everglades.
Wilma killed 35 people, destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and caused widespread power outages. Damage estimates have neared $20 billion. Some places were without electricity for three weeks. Nearly everyone needed to completely restock their refrigerators and freezers.
The late-season beast has left many South Florida residents with much bigger concerns than preparing turkeys, watching parades and choosing wrapping paper.
I lived in the Miami area for a few years and always marveled at its economic dichotomy. There are pockets of immeasurable wealth, neighboring areas of abject poverty. During a Thanksgiving visit, I heard and saw evidence of an uncharacteristic malaise that has settled over many residents, even the ”lucky” ones who have the financial resources and insurance to help them rebuild.
After seeing the damage and talking to people during my travels, it is clear the people of the area still need help and support. There are still shelters operating in parts of South Florida, but as we move further away from the disaster, and it becomes tangled in the distant past with last year’s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, urgency is lost and many will be forgotten.
Nearly 2,000 volunteers have been deployed to support the Red Cross response in Florida following Wilma, in addition to the tens of thousands on the ground across the Gulf Coast still serving communities damaged by Katrina and Rita.
”This year’s hurricane season has presented unprecedented challenges for the Red Cross,” said spokesman Pat McCrummen. ”It’s been a long and busy hurricane season, but our staff and volunteers continue to rise to the challenge daily. They know that these communities need our support.”
The next four weeks will focus us on shopping, looking for holiday gifts and planning holiday celebrations. It’s difficult to stop and let in thoughts of suffering and need.
At the airport in Fort Lauderdale, a young man in line behind me was describing his vacation to a friend. His main line of conversation was the complaint that he had to spend so much of his week off helping his father clean up hurricane damage. He was right in the middle of the damage, and yet seemed far removed from the consequence. I can only imagine how far to the background Wilma (and Katrina and Rita) are to folks in the Midwest.
If you can spare one less string of lights or one fewer CD this holiday season, think about sending whatever you can to the Hurricane relief effort through the Red Cross (www.redcross.org) or United Way (www.unitedway.org).
The fallen trees will take decades to replace and replenish. People do not have that kind of time to wait for help.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.