28 August 2011

What Katrina taught us about Irene: Hurricane Lessons

I passed nine glorious days on the Eastern Seaboard two weeks ago, before Hurricane Irene showed up at the shore.

Pictured at left, Margate, Absecon Island, New Jersey Shore, August 2011

Currently, my host, John Becher, D.O. remains on Absecon Island, otherwise Irene evacuated save emergency medical personnel and about 130 patients in AtlantaCare Hospital in Atlantic City. Dr. Becher runs the Emergency Room.

He also serves as a trustee of the American Osteopathic Association. Dr. Becher and I both participated in an AOA board-sponsored mission of mercy in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Dr. Becher doctored in a free clinic. I hung sheet rock and also took the initiative to plant a garden at the home I worked at in St. Bernard Parish. I reported on my hurricane relief experience for The Denver Post and also my Denver Flower and Garden Examiner page, linked here.
Dr. Becher and his wife, his fellow AOA board memeber and my sweetheart Joel Cooperman, D.O. have experienced two hurricanes together. One in Florida, where we were gathered for an AOA convention. And another on Absecon Island, where the Becher's have a house in Margate.
That hurricane two summers ago was nothing like Irene. In fact, we body-surfed the righteous waves the day after the storm swept the island.

Irene is not so gentle. The storm stirs emotions in me, mindful of the devastation in NOLA even three years after the hurricane. The silver lining to this hurricane cloud? Hurricane Katrina taught us to beware Hurricane Irene. Here are a few ways we seem to be better responding to hurricane warnings:

Evacuate! Dr. Becher noted that the mayor of Cape May went door-to-door with indelible markers urging people to write their social security numbers on their forearms so officials could identify their bodies when found.

Do not put emergency workers in harms way for the sake of people who refused to evacuate. First responders won't be shoved out into the storm to rescue until storm intensity weakens: That's a message many municipalities proclaimed.

Include people who are indigent. Dr. Becher noted that people who are homeless were evacuated by bus to schools on the mainland. I salute the justice in providing for people in need in emergency situations and hope similar arrangements were made elsewhere for indigent people in the path of Irene.

Plan for pets. The ASPCA and other animal well being organizations dispensed information reminding people to make plans for pets. After Katrina, thousands of displaced pets added to the utter misery of the aftermath. In fact, I packed dog treats when I went to New Orleans. At the time, three years after Katrina, I saw one report that as many as 50,000 dogs and cats were still displaced. Allowing pets into shelters makes it easier for people to evacuate their homes.

Colleen Smith writes from central Denver.
Her first novel, "Glass Halo," was a finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize.
Her second book, "Laid-Back Skier: As In Skiing, So In Lifw" will be released in fall 2011.
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