Chazy, NY. The one thing I never expected to happen during my visit to my folks here in upstate New York happened. I thought that by visiting this time of year I would be escaping the typhoons and monsoon rains that usually occur in August and September. Little did I realize that this would be the year that a serious hurricane would come this far away from the coast and cause serious damage in so many inland areas.
The eastern USA coastlands and coastal cities were prepared with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated as a precautionary measure. But instead of hitting New York City with its fury, the slow-moving storm, downgraded from hurricane force, pounded upstate New York (where I now am), Vermont and New Hampshire with 7-15” of heavy rain and strong gusty winds. I am sure that if you have been watching the news from this area, you would be reminded of some of our strongest typhoons like Ondoy, Peping, and others.
But God was good to us. We – my brother Mike and Kathy, his wife – were able to visit our relatives in Vermont on that Saturday before the storm hit. We visited our sister Mary in Wallingford and our 98-yr old uncle Dave in Springfield, Vermont. They were in the areas that were badly flooded, but since their homes were elevated and away from the rivers, neither were adversely affected…except for power outages. If we had not gone to Vermont that day, I would not have been able to visit them because the storm washed out many of the very roads that we took that Saturday. And we arrived home in Chazy before the rains began here.
Our county, Clinton County, that borders Lake Champlain, near the US-Canadian border, has been declared a disaster area with about 45 roads severely damaged and bridges washed out. Many farm lands now look like small lakes. They say the rivers have crested but some are still raging strongly. Here at my brother’s we experienced a 24-hour power outage due to a large ancient tree crashing into a major power transformer some distance from us. Although our power is now back on, many other areas around are still without power.
In the Philippines, we expect things like this to happen about every year, sometimes even several times a year, and prepare for them. But in this part of the country the last time they experienced a hurricane like this was in 1944! And rains like this occur only once every ten years or so. Result: many were unprepared, and just scrambled for higher ground to watch their homes and businesses, roads and bridges, even cars washed away by the angry, swollen rivers that seemed to attack whole towns, destroying everything in their paths.
Today, Tuesday, the sun shines through some scattered rain showers and I can see a beautiful rainbow, brightly glowing against the dark, cloudy sky, reminding me of God’s promise that He will not destroy us with floods, that better times are ahead. But I also know that we need to do our part in taking care of our environment that He has blessed us with in order to receive the full benefits of His promise.
Tuesday, the following week, Sept 6. It is now a little over a week since Hurricane Irene ravaged the New England States and upstate New York. And still every day more rain comes down! Despite the frequent rains, severe flood warnings and thunderstorms, cleanup crews have worked round the clock to clear roads, repair road washouts, fallen bridges and flood damage, and restore power throughout the area. “It looks like a bomb went off,” remarked one town official. In Clinton County, NY, where I am staying with my brother and his family, damage to infrastructure alone is estimated to top $2Million, not counting damage to private homes and businesses.
It is heartwarming to hear about what one media writer termed the overwhelming “universal theme” surfacing in this time of natural disaster – neighbor helping neighbor, people dropping by the relief centers and town halls with food, clothing, cleaning supplies, donating money, volunteering their time, working long hours to lend a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, trying to comfort the shell-shocked survivors who have lost everything to Irene. One volunteer remarked, “It’s unreal. It seems people donate in times of need.”
“I am just glad it is not cold out, that we don’t have to worry about keeping ourselves warm,” observed a homeowner whose home was lifted up by flash flood waters and deposited about 200 meters away. “We had just finished our new fire station building after three years of hard work,” the Upper Jay fire chief Jeff Straight said as he pointed to a gaping hole where it used to be. “I guess we will have to do it again.” One couple rejoiced that their home was untouched but at the same time grieved that the building housing their business workshop was flooded and slowly disappearing into a sink hole.
Yes, there was tragedy. Yes, the damage was totally and unexpectedly severe. Yes, many people lost everything. But … the goodness in people surfaced above the flood waters. Neighbors helping neighbors, survivors helping other survivors, volunteers showing up when most needed. And once in a while during an occasional break in the clouds the sun shone through and left a rainbow arching through the sky, a clear promise of better days to come.
Now that flood waters are receding, life goes on. The school bus system announced in the local newspaper this morning that they have plotted routes around the road washouts and will be able to get the children to school on time. Plans continue for the Saturday get together of family and friends. Actually the get together was for 9-11 but they decided to move it to the day before in respect for those who would want to observe the tenth year anniversary of the 9-11 Twin Towers tragedy in New York City. Again there are so many heart-rending and soul-warming stories of survivors and volunteers, so many blessings that have surfaced in the 9-11 aftermath.
When one is personally involved in such a tragedy or horrific happening, it is difficult to see God’s hand in the situation. And yet, we need to remember that He is always present to lift us up. I always rely on my favorite verse – Romans 8:28 that reassures me: “I know that in everything God works for good for those who love Him whom He has called according to His purpose.”