After the Storm: The Resilience of Community

After the Storm: The Resilience of Community

Growing up in Saint Louis I regularly participated in tornado drills to prepare for twisters that frequented the midwest every year. We had a few close calls, which provided opportunities for my classmates and I to sit quietly up against the walls in our school hallways, heads tucked in and arms over our heads, hoping that it hit our school building so we would be out of school (lol), having no idea what would happen if it actually did. Fortunately, I never experienced the full wrath of a tornado, only heavy rains and annoying power outages that resulted in my younger brothers driving me insane, bored out of their minds since they couldn’t go outside or watch television.

That all changed when I went away to college, though. I chose to attend school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the bluffs of the Mississippi and right in the middle of hurricane alley. My first year I noticed that the rain was sort of strange - it was angry, I thought. It would pour buckets of rain for short intervals and sometimes days, but it always seemed ridiculously heavy so we jokingly referred to them as our mini monsoons. Being a city kid, I had never experienced rain like that, nor did I have a clue about what to do if a hurricane showed up.

Mumford Stadium

Southern University A&M College Campus, Mumford Stadium

Senior year arrived and I expected it to be a crazy year, given it’s always more difficult when you’re close to the finish line. I never expected my first hurricane experience, but it’s always when you least expect something that it happens. In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in the Bahamas and Florida and then headed for Louisiana.

My photography instructor decided our class needed to experience covering a hurricane like other weather reporters. So my classmates and I - being young and dumb, as my parents would say - signed waivers, dressed up in rain gear, gathered our cameras and headed to downtown Baton Rouge with the intention of capturing photos of the eye of the storm. That moment is now listed among the craziest things I have ever done. My classmates and I tried to stand on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge and capture shots of the storm in 65-70 mph winds and ridiculous rain. That didn’t work out so well - in fact we barely made it off that bridge. So we left the bridge, only to create more crazy.

Horace Watkins Bridge, Baton Rouge Louisiana

Horace Watkins Bridge, Baton Rouge

Being seniors, most of us lived in our own apartments and decided it was hurricane-party time; in Louisiana, everything requires a party. We gathered food and brought it to our classmates’ townhouse, which we thought was safe since it was brick. We began our crazy party, cooking, drinking, and laughing until all of a sudden we could feel the building moving. We turned down the music and that’s when “fright night” began.

By this time, Andrew was in full force with winds of 120-plus miles per hour. We looked out the window and we could see whole cars, rooftops, trees - you name it - flying down the street. It was scary. Since we could see all of this happening you would think that common sense would have told us to take cover… nope.

One of our party goers was so mesmerized by the storm’s power he decided to open the front door for a front-row seat. He then decided to step out a little, thinking that he was covered from the wind because there was a little area that the brick front covered, but he wasn’t - and the wind swept him up into a tree. You can’t make this stuff up.

Now we had to figure out how to get him out. Thank God it was a young tree. We tied rope, broom sticks, whatever we could find until finally we realized if we were going to save him, it was going to require our combined strength. So someone came up with the bright idea of making a human chain and amazingly, after several attempts, we got him out the tree and safely back in the house.

The party was over at that point and as the storm began to slow down, we lost power and water and were basically standing in the middle of what looked like a war zone. Walking outside the next day, it looked like Armageddon had taken place. Houses were completely demolished, cars all over the street, mature trees uprooted - a disaster of the worst kind. Andrew had also cut off our water supply and evidently unleashed some evil mosquitoes as well.

What do homeless disaster victims with no power, water or food do? They help each other. They build a human chain that extends throughout the community.

Aftermath of Hurricane, Louisiana

Hurricane aftermath in Louisiana

The one thing that storm didn’t destroy was the ability to get back up, rebuild and help others in need. For several weeks after the storm, my friends and I helped people clean up the neighborhood and find food and shelter. We never gave it thought, it was the only thing we could do. We ran into a Red Cross truck of volunteers who were passing out water, food and supplies. They, like us, had experienced the wrath of Andrew but it hadn’t disturbed the resilience of the human spirit at all. Everywhere we went, people were picking up the pieces of what we had left. That went on for months, teaching me a powerful lesson about what it takes to rebuild a community after a disaster.

Large-scale disasters are often largely recovered by volunteers giving their time to help out fellow neighbors, while often experiencing loss themselves. These days I’m not throwing any hurricane parties - in fact, if a hurricane is forecasted you can count on me to follow whatever instructions are given to residents in my area. I’m happy to share, though; through the company I work for, I provide a helping hand to the courageous volunteers that rebuild our communities. I work for Spatial Networks, a geospatial technology company which makes Fulcrum, a field data collection platform that enables volunteers to capture and share data in real time and at no cost to them.

It’s amazing how quickly life comes full circle. Through our platform and smartphone technology, volunteers are able to quickly report damage assessments and get their neighbors to shelter and food a lot faster. My college buddies and I still get together every other year to celebrate our triumph over Hurricane Andrew - can’t wait to tell them what I’m up to when we meet next year.

Learn more about Fulcrum Community here.

About the author

Donayle is the Fulcrum Community Advocate, providing leadership and direction of Spatial Networks’ philanthropic vision.

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