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As the Wife of a TX Congressman in a Devastated District, 9 Things That Made Me Cry in the Harvey Aftermath


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Win McNamee/Staff/Joe Raedle/Staff/Twitter/Getty Images
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As a resident of south Texas, I've experienced Hurricane Harvey’s destruction on a very human and emotional level. Time ceases to exist, moving in slow motion like a car accident. Long, hot, humid, summer days pile up on top of each other, all containing the same, almost overwhelming tasks: assessing the damage, removing what is now the debris of your former life, helping your neighbor, and moving on to a “new normal.”

As the wife of a member of Congress, I have traveled over 1,500 miles since Hurricane Harvey hit the South Texas Coast from the small, quaint fishing towns to the inland rural, rustic ranching communities, and I have seen more devastation than I ever thought imaginable.

My training as a surgical nurse prepared me well for the people I have met, listened to, hugged, and prayed with over the last couple weeks. Their grit, determination, and attitudes have touched my heart in such a profound way.

Here are nine stories that particularly touched my heart over the last week.

1) Aftermath Pictures and Visits:

Nothing prepares you for the split second between normal and not normal after a catastrophic weather event like Hurricane Harvey. When everything you knew to be solid and strong is just a pile of twisted metal, boards, and rain-drenched insulation.

I have wonderful memories of sitting at a Port Aransas restaurant on the water eating boiled shrimp, sipping fruity cocktails, and watching the sport fishermen weigh their fish at the marina. These are the memories of my college youth, and after one evening those buildings are gone forever. It is shocking, it is heart wrenching, it is indescribable.

My husband and I spend a lot of our time in the various small fishing communities along the Texas Gulf Coast; we know the residents, and we know the small business owners who depend on the tourist industry for their livelihood. What happens to them? There will be a “new normal” as these small communities rebuild and readjust to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

As I look at each destroyed building, each home that is flattened, each power line that is a crumpled pile of wire and wood, there is an ache in my heart for the families and businesses affected.

2) My Best Friend Losing Half Her House:

I will never forget the evening my best friend, with tears welling in her eyes, told me they lost half their house when the eye of the storm went over their ranch. The roof peeled back like a piece of aluminum foil, and rain damaged most of the north side of their family home. They had significant flooding.

What touched my heart most about her loss was her concern for the longtime employees that help run their working ranch and her concern about taking FEMA money from those that might need it more than them.

I have seen and heard story after story about property loss from friends and strangers. The most striking thing about each one of them is that, the in midst of the horror and destruction with just the clothes on their backs for possessions, they nervously chuckle and say “I’m going to be alright, I’m going to rebuild and I am going to help my neighbor rebuild.”

Unbelievably, they never seem down or defeated, they never utter a cross word or ask “why me.” Actually, I have been struck by how optimistic people have been. It has been inspiring to me.

3) South Texas Football:

Anyone who knows anything about Texas knows we are fanatical about our football. Friday night lights, marching bands, Homecoming, quarterbacks and cheerleaders, we love it all.

While in Refugio, TX, this week, I spoke to the superintendent of schools. Like most of the small communities along the Texas Gulf Coast, their schools sustained major damage. School can’t begin for several months; this will especially be hard on the graduating seniors. The only building untouched was their athletic facility.

She is committed to not only getting their schools reopened but also getting their football program up and running as something for the community to rally around.

4) Melania’s Shoes:

Texans who have just been through a category 4 hurricane with winds over 150 mph and flooding of biblical proportions do not care that the first lady got into Air Force One wearing snakeskin stilettos. The fact is, the first lady could have flown here wearing a potato sack and we would not have cared.

What is important is that she cared enough to come to our small corner of the world to see the destruction for herself.

In Texas, we measure people not by what they wear or own, but by the size of their heart, the content of their character and their compassion for others. The first lady showed us and continues to show us she is committed to rebuilding our communities whether she wears stilettos, sneakers, or flip flops. God bless her.

5) Emergency Operation Centers:

Most residents of cities, large or small, go about their daily lives never worrying about water, sewer, power, police protection, fire or ambulance services. We don’t think about where the water comes from, just that the water comes out of the faucet.

What I have learned over the last week is that each community has dedicated people who stay behind in harm’s way working the emergency plan for disasters. They don’t have the luxury of worrying about their homes, businesses, or pets. Their job is to worry about us.

These community leaders are selfless heroes we never see, but if they weren’t there as the backbone of the community, we wouldn’t have a safe, secure place to return.

I am in awe of these community servants; they don’t do their job for money or prestige (I bet you can’t name your EOC manager) but for the love of their neighbors and their community. They are my heroes.

6) Volunteers, Volunteers, Volunteers:

How do you even begin to thank those kind, gentle souls that rush to your aid when tragedy hits? Volunteers have come from communities far and wide, traveling for miles using their own financial and physical resources. Many have voluntarily put themselves in physical danger to rescue others.

In a nation where we are all hyper-polarized today, it is gratifying to know that Americans have risen to the challenge to help their fellow countrymen. Yes, Texans are strong, resilient and giving, but Hurricane Harvey hasn’t just tested Texas or Louisiana: it has tested America.

Just like those that stormed the beaches of Normandy during WWII, an army of volunteers of all ethnicities and ages has stormed the beaches of the Texas Gulf Coast. They have come with their boats, their supplies, their grit, and determination to not let one person suffer longer than necessary.

7) The Best of the Media:

Being the spouse of a member of Congress, you are quickly thrown into the “belly of the beast,” as they say.

The press is necessary for transparency, free flowing ideas, and the dissemination of vital information, particularly during a weather event. Local media saved many lives by communicating vital information, and kept residents informed with their commitment to staying on the air as long as possible and then switching to social media when transmissions went down.

Besides the faces of the local news reporter and weatherman, there are dozens of hardworking men and women behind the scenes collecting and sharing critical information. They deserve our thanks and respect because they provide an invaluable service during crises.

8) The Worst of the Media:

When Texans are in the path of a category 4 storm with 150 mph winds and torrential rainfall, they aren’t concerned with presidential pardons, Melania’s shoes, or where the money is going to come from for the wall. Priorities shift to an immediate concern for life, property, and survival.

Publishing “thought provoking” cartoons is insulting to every person affected by this storm. Texans love God, guns, families, and our fellow Texans; you could say we “cling” to them.

We love the flag and what it stands for: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Hopefully one day, the media will understand that it is this faith in God, our faith in each other, and our self-reliance that makes Texas special. We are proud to be American and proud to be Texan.

9) Donald and the Texas Flag:

Thank you, Mr. President, for coming to Corpus Christi last week. Your compassion for our coastal communities and your love for your fellow countrymen don’t go unnoticed by us.

We are counting on your commitment to not forget the small towns and fishing hamlets that dot the South Texas coast from Corpus Christi to Houston. We bore the brunt of the initial storm, our people are suffering, but we are not out. We believe in the promise and opportunity of America, that out of the devastation with hard work, determination, and sheer will we can rebuild into something stronger and greater. A place where you may want to return to one day.

God Bless you, Mr. President, we will be praying for you and our fellow Texans.

Texans know we need each other, but we can’t do it alone. I am deeply appreciative for the millions of Americans who have risen to the call to help their fellow man. Donations of every kind from cans of bug spray (we have mosquitos the size of dragonflies right now) to physical labor to money to buy supplies have flowed into our distribution centers and city halls. They are greatly appreciated and have helped tremendously.

Today, most cities and towns are in desperate need of construction-related items: things like tarps, cap nails, rope, chain saws, fans for when the power returns, sunscreen, hats, work gloves, and boots. We have a long road of rebuilding, repairing, and recovery ahead of us, and it is going to take time.

One of the biggest fears I hear in my travels is that Americans will forget about us. I know in my heart that won’t be the case, as Hurricane Harvey has renewed my faith in the goodness of Americans. I have never been more proud to be an American, and I am always proud to be a Texan.