David Lauderdale

A swarm came to help, and it wasn't the government

We fret a lot about hurricanes around here.

It's not that we're paranoid. We have built our mansions on sand close to sea level in a county that's mostly water.

We got fortunate again last weekend as the sprawling Hurricane Irene rumbled up the East Coast. It passed by here well offshore, before its storm surges and heavy rains moved the earth around in states to our north.

The only damage we experienced was that to the brain inflicted upon us by television "reporters" ad-libbing on camera with zero news or information to impart.

But the truth is, Irene did a lot of damage and made life miserable for millions of people.

A Hilton Head Island man sent me a dispatch from the front, so to speak, which should help guide our future fretting.

It's an email from an airplane pilot in the Northeast.

It comes from an area where Irene, then a mere tropical storm, swept roads, bridges and even cemeteries into swollen rivers.

"I flew a recon flight today, and am incredibly proud to live where we do," he writes.

"Yes, the roads are destroyed and many bridges are out.

"BUT, there were John Deere tractors and chainsaw gangs everywhere, cleaning up the mess on the roads.

"These were not FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers, or government workers; they were the people who live there.

"One group was filling in a river bed with gravel and logs so they could bypass a destroyed bridge to get to and from their homes. They were cleaning debris off roads and re-routing (around) missing sections through fields.

"On TV and in the papers there is no whining, no demands, no looting, no crying about their situation, no blaming, no expecting someone else to solve their problems.

"Our son tells us all these people would like is for the rest of us to either lend a physical hand or get out of their way so they can clean up.

"This is the nation I always thought I lived in."

Those of us who have chosen to live in harm's way should not expect our government "family" to bail us out. Before, during and after a hurricane, government help is desperately needed. But most of the work will be up to us, collectively, as citizens.

That's why eight trained Red Cross volunteers deployed from the Lowcountry this week to help strangers whose lives were turned upside down by Irene. It's why church groups have teams of rescue volunteers trained and ready to respond. We must help ourselves, it's true. But the young must help the old, the able must help the feeble, the rich must help the poor.

Only then will this be the nation we always thought we lived in.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.