This has been a particularly bad year for natural disasters. Every part of the world has had its share. Typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions (Sulawesi, Indonesia; Guatemala; Kilauea), hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, wildfire and drought. The more remote – to the observer – the area impacted, the shorter the empathy and focus, of even the most compassionate among us, lingers. There are always other disasters or personal crises that spring up. I was thinking about this on recent travels through a wide swath of the Yosemite wilderness where millions of trees stand as burned spikes among healthy timber. Many of these were victim of wildfire earlier this year. While I was in Yosemite, the Camp fire was laying waste to thousands of acres and the entire city of Paradise in northern California. where now some eighty-three are known dead, and at one report over five hundred are still unaccounted for. And in southern California, the communities of Malibu and surrounding area were burned out by the Woolsey Fire that same week.
And it was only several weeks earlier that a late season hurricane, Michael, went through the panhandle city of Panama City, Florida all the way into the Carolinas with wind and coastal flooding that wiped out communities. Property can be replaced, that is true. Relief agencies, charities, volunteers, and supplies to help the homeless victims are mobilized. Donations are requested, Governments promise action. But in terms of lives lost and disrupted, memories turned to ash , basic necessities that we take for granted , and the emotional pain is its own tsunami. We are learning that this community of Paradise was home to many elder residents. With an inferno that descended on them so devastating, many fled with mere minutes to survive or perish.
In all these disasters, we hear later about animals that were rescued, and flown to other parts of the country to receive care and then adoption. But what of so many other pets, livestock, and the wildlife that could not flee fire, flood, or tsunamis? And what about the psychological trauma whether small children, seniors, and even our pets? In foreign lands, hit with mudslides, or volcanic pyroclastic flows, or severe flooding from storms, there are perhaps more severe consequences because these residents are much less able to “bounce back” when their lives and livelihoods are obliterated. How many years after a particular natural disaster are people still recovering in Indonesia, or Haiti, Puerto Rico or Guatemala? When Hurricane Katrina flooded the Gulf Coast of the United States, how many years after the 2005 storm, were residents still piecing lives back together? It depends where you look. And this is a “First World” country.
Yet people are resilient. Animals have recovered from their near-death experiences, many in new homes and families. Homes are rebuilt. Lives are put back together. Families are thankful for the support. Volunteers take comfort that their efforts are doing good for people in very difficult times. And as one area is getting back to some semblance of routine, there is another location that needs support.