We are at our best in disaster relief

Nature keeps sending disasters. People keep sending relief.

We’re still learning the extent of the damage Hurricane Irma did to the homes, neighborhoods, communities and fundamentally the people of the state of Florida from the Keys to Jacksonville in the north, with access to some areas cut off for days, and therefore, delivery routes of relief. Irma devastated Barbuda.

Now, Hurricane Maria threatens destruction in Puerto Rico.

The Category 5 storm with sustained winds of 175 mph (281 kph) will smash into the Virgin Islands Tuesday night. It has already obliterated parts of Dominica and killed at least one person in Guadeloupe.

 

Puerto Rico will get hit hard Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, and the storm could be catastrophic…

 

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled from other Caribbean Islands during Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for devastation.

 

“This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic,” (Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo) Rosselló said. “Our only focus right now should be to make sure we save lives.”

That has been the focus for weeks now of people across the United States. When Hurricane Harvey was still beating down on Houston, whatever had been dividing Americans politically or culturally dissolved or got sidelined by the force of nature and the ‘force more powerful‘ than destruction, love and charity impulsively and instinctively passing from person to person.

Numbers of people beyond counting have been showing up in this ‘army of compassion’ descending on sites of destruction even while they’re still being battered. Especially then, which shows the real magnanimity of regular Americans. Houston’s ‘Mattress Mack‘ is emblematic of this spirit of unity and generosity, and the humility that, to a person, seems to define the motivating impulse driving people from their comfort zones to the place they’d rather be in an emergency: with the people under siege. They have offered what they have to those who need anything.

Magdalena Marez, 27, and her fiancé Zachary Gasser, moved into their apartment a few months ago. They went furniture shopping at a handful of Houston-area stores, but they’d never stepped foot into a Gallery Furniture store until early Tuesday morning. They wandered in, soaking wet, just after evacuating from their apartment.

 

Floodwaters were ankle deep, and they struggled to make the drive.

 

When they arrived at the showroom volunteers handed them dry clothes, toothbrushes, soap, shoes — and a mattress still covered in plastic. Marez is moved by McIngvale’s generosity.

 

“We never stepped foot in (one of his stores) and now I’m just like, wow, I mean, they opened up the doors. Like nothing. He didn’t even second guess it,” she says. “He was just like, ‘Let me help you.'”

 

McIngvale is also paying for portable showers so evacuees can have their first hot shower in days.

 

Marchione, the employee, says his boss has opened the store to evacuees and is providing meals because it’s his way of giving back to a community that has brought him success over the past 36 years.

 

“This is Houston,” Marchione adds. “That’s how Houston rolls.”

Jim McIngvale was my guest on radio, because he answered my call with the generosity he shows to all calls on his time and attention. Media had descended on ‘Mattress Mack’, he agreed to brief exchanges with them while working, mainly to put the word out that all help for evacuees was needed and welcomed. He told me that a reporter for some big media outlet asked why he was doing all this work in his big company store, housing and feeding so many people. He said “because I have to”, but the reporter replied “no you don’t”. He quickly corrected “yes I do”. It’s what he knows, it’s what he lives.

“I was raised as a Catholic,” he told the local KENS5 news in Houston. “I continued my Catholic faith throughout my life, trying to do the right thing and hopefully, you do the right thing and help people along the way.”

His Gallery Furniture business is still helping, in the cleanup phase and beyond.

The Miami Herald editors published a fervent wish for such charitable goodwill for Floridians before Irma hit: “Be kind, send help, rebuild“.

 

Nerves are frayed, to say the very least. But South Floridians have always risen to the occasion during difficult times, extending a generous helping hand, with no hesitation, with no expectations of reciprocation.

It is one of the Editorial Board’s most fervent wishes — but only one — that in the pre-disaster hunt for plywood, water, gas, and hotel rooms, we remain civil, empathetic. Remember Connect Miami? April’s successful community-wide initiative to encourage residents to engage with people unlike them? To hear their stories? To find commonality? Irma will be put this initiative on steroids.

People from everywhere have been quick to step up, show up and reach out, not even knowing they’re part of a national rapid response team. They didn’t ask what identity group the afflicted belonged to, nor what political party,nor how they voted in the last election. The only questions they asked and are asking are ‘What do you need?‘ and ‘How can I help?

 

I’ve had several guests on radio these past two weeks somehow involved in disaster relief and recovery, charitable organizations and government aid, professionals, spiritual directors, people trying to help people and connect with the best ways to get things done.

Some of them said something I’ve been thinking, hoping, saying on my show, that we should be able to keep this going. See ‘the other’ as a person to engage, to serve, to share a vulnerable moment with and find ways that encounter can benefit both. And build or rebuild the nation that’s made up of people, known to be fiercely independent, but who are remembering how interdependent we truly are.

Can the Paris rally launch unified action against terror?

How about more attention on massacres, at the very least?

That’s what Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama virtually cried out for after the latest  breathtaking wave of crimes against humanity there.

As the world mourns the vicious massacres in Paris, one of Africa’s top religious leaders suggested that the lack of a similar outcry across the globe over the slaughter of up to 2,000 people by Boko Haram last week in northeast Nigeria is further evidence that Black lives don’t matter as much as whites’.

Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, said the international community has expressed “solidarity,” but hasn’t done much to offer real help.

“We have always said that there should be concern expressed more concretely by the West beyond just expressing their solidarity,” Kaigama said. “They should do more than that. Compare what has happened in Paris and what is happening here. There is a great difference.”

According to Amnesty International, most of the people killed in Baga and the surrounding villages were women, children and the elderly, who were not able to flee in time. Reports say that the villages are overwhelmed with dead bodies lying as far as the eye could see. Amnesty International said it was the deadliest massacre Boko Haram has staged in the years of its murderous reign.

In addition to the dead, another 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes, with about 7,500 seeking sanctuary in Chad and the rest adding to the tens of thousands of displaced people already scattered throughout that region of Nigeria.

On Twitter, Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at consultants Africa Matters, said, “No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags,”…

Harry Leslie Smith, the 91-year-old who the Independent said electrified the Labour Party conference last year with a speech on the NHS, said on Twitter: “Note to the media and Western politicians that Paris isn’t burning but Nigeria is.”

On his Facebook page, Hollywood actor Boris Kodjoe congratulated the world leaders for taking part in the Paris march and asked “can somebody tell me why nobody is marching for those [Nigerian] victims? Any world leaders planning a trip to Lagos or Abuja this week? Too Busy? Bad flight connections?”

Thankfully, Angelina Jolie gets a lot of attention on just about everything she does and says, and she’s stepping up and speaking out about these atrocities, and calling out world leaders to send relief. This CNN report tells the raw story.

The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers — their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people.

That was January 3, nine days ago.

On Monday, bodies still littered the bushes in the area.

“It is still not safe to go and pick them up for burial,” said Musa Bukar, the chairman of the local government where Baga is located.

No emergency crews will enter the villages where militants are still running amok, local authorities said.

“Baga is not accessible because it is still occupied by Boko Haram,” said Sen. Maina Ma’aji Lawan of northern Borno state.

The strategic Nigerian town borders Chad, giving the extremists better access to both countries.

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The group’s brutal tactics have shocked and stunned the world.

It has kidnapped students, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April — and remain missing.

On Saturday, explosives strapped to a girl detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects.

But the scale of the early January attack — the death of hundreds, possibly thousands — defies belief.

Any one of those sentences is a jaw dropping stunner. Why is this continuing? Isn’t anyone doing anything? Where’s the ‘international community’? Where’s the massive rally and outcry and gathering of world leaders? Where’s the social media campaign to activate people around the globe to stop the madness and inhumanity to innocent children, women, elderly, everyone in the path of this murderous gang?

Angelina Jolie wants to know, too. And in her position with the UN and the media in general, she has a voice and is using it, thank God.

“Each new crime committed by Boko Haram exceeds the last in brutality. This is a direct consequence of the environment of total impunity in which Boko Haram operates. Every time they get away with mass murder, rape and the enslavement of women and children, they are emboldened,” Angelina Jolie, special envoy of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement.

She urged the United States and other nations to offer Nigeria help to “collect evidence and bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice.”

Amnesty International called the massacre Boko Haram’s “deadliest act.”

“If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

The Nigerian military said the description of the attack as “the deadliest” was “quite valid.”

“The attack on the town by the bloodhounds and their activities since January 3 should convince well meaning people all over the world that Boko Haram is the evil all must collaborate to end,” it said.

Should is such a weak term, an innocuous one in this case. Convince? Does a case need to be made? Don’t the brutal facts shock all “well meaning people all over the world” into taking some action, any action, to call their members of government to DO something? And to do something themselves to send any form of relief available to us all?

What forms might that take, many good people desperately want to know. The first things I think of are the heroic relief organizations on the ground desperately trying to get life saving help to the thousands and thousands of innocent people terrorized and barely hanging on to life and hope, if they even have that.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders seems to be assisting survivors in the stricken region. CNEWA, CRS, Caritas and Samaritan’s Purse are great organizations doing so much globally. It’s not evident they can get into Nigeria, though they’re certainly on location where Iraqi and Syrian refugees have fled persecution and need help. So I checked out what Archbishop Kaigama is saying. Here’s what he’s saying about the help his people need:

The Archbishop said prayer was necessary, because the situation has gone beyond what “can be managed at the human level.”

Indonesia’s deadly landslide

How much of the world is aware this happened?

With so much else going on everywhere, in the US and globally, and so many news stories to get to and post here, all piling up, I came across this. And want to point it out.

A landslide destroyed a remote village in Indonesia, killing at least 17 people, an official said on Saturday, as rescuers used their bare hands and sticks to search through the mud for scores of missing in the absence of heavy-lifting equipment.

This is yet another story of people out of sight and mind, suffering terribly, with other people rushing forward to rescue and help as many and as much as they can, and I want to take a moment to direct attention to it and ask for prayers for all the people in dire need of them, and aid and support of any relief organizations you trust and regularly support. Or have been thinking of supporting. Because the need is great.

Hundreds have been evacuated from around Jemblung village in the Banjarnegara regency of central Java, about 280 miles from the capital, Jakarta, where media pictures showed a flood of orange mud and water cascading down a wooded mountainside after Friday’s disaster.

Mudslides are common in Indonesia during the monsoon season, which usually runs from October until April.

Think about that. The monsoon season lasts for half the year. That means living on the edge of danger or extinction half of your yearly life. And in a remote place to begin with, so largely cut off from swift access to emergency help.

Large swathes of forest land, power lines and houses were buried. Hampering the rescue effort was a lack of a telephone signal and earth-moving equipment in the isolated, rural area.

“There was a roaring sound like thunder,” Imam, who lives in a neighboring village, told television.

Television. The lack of any identifying network or station or anything professional news reporting usually requires shows the urgency and swiftness of this rudimentary report. Though it is published on a network news site, its source was a small local Indonesian outlet. Thankfully, they got this out. The people there are fending for themselves. They’re living in this remote place, completely off our radar, when suddenly their lives were thrown into panic with the “roaring sound like thunder”. Knowing now what came next, one shudders to think of experiencing this.

“Then I saw trees were flying and then the landslides. People here also panicked and fled.”

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said 17 people had been killed, 15 rescued, 91 were missing and 423 people from the surrounding areas had been taken to temporary shelters. He said there was a history of similar disasters in the area.

Of all the disasters and crises in the world right now, this may not rise to the level of awareness even NBC gave it in this brief account. But it’s a community of  individuals and families and local merchants, businesses, services, people, so very far away from most of us, who were visited with disaster and need help.

I can’t sign on to Facebook these days without seeing accounts of crises, large scale and personal, people either in danger or in the aftermath of loss, and they’re reaching out for help.

For those of you who leap to such occasions to pray, please do for these Indonesians along with all others in need. For anyone who will give in this season of faith, hope and charity, please give to relief organizations.

And for everyone, let’s try to live by the Golden Rule, at the very least. My parents often reminded me of its fundamental role at the center of how they were raised. Do for others what you would hope they would do for you.

Especially when most of the world doesn’t even know you’re there, and in dire need.