Helping Houston the American way

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Houston is trying to dry itself out and recover from the historic floods of Hurricane Harvey.

It will take years and unknown billions of dollars.

Unlike New Orleans in 2005 after Katrina, the countryís fourth largest city was as prepared as any metropolis can be for a thousand-year flood.

But unlike New Orleans, Houstonís city government was not horribly corrupt and incompetent.

In Houston, no poorly built or badly maintained federal government levies broke open, instantly flooding whole neighborhoods with sea water up to their rooftops and killing nearly 2,000 people.

In Houston, where so far about 40 have died, nearly 1.7 million residents left voluntarily or were ordered to be evacuated by local officials before the flood waters crested.

On a federal level, President Trump is doing and saying the right things, though his critics in the media will never admit it.

Theyíre busy looking for any way to blame him for every thing that goes wrong in Houston while complaining heís been too upbeat and hasnít shown the proper degree of empathy.

Theyíre no doubt already trying to link his personal contribution of $1 million to a kickback from Putin.

Itís still early, but so far the federal governmentís response has not caused more trouble for Houstonís people or created any political firestorms.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is on the scene, throwing its money around and promising much much more.

FEMA clearly has learned some lessons since its failures dealing with Katrina.

It was much better prepared for a major disaster and itís not trying to hog the relief and rebuild process.

FEMA now knows its proper place and its most important role - providing federal relief money and supporting state and local governments.

Earlier this week FEMAís administrator, Brock Long, encouraged ďall citizens to get involved. Donate your money, figure out how you can get involved as we help Texas find a new normal going forward after this devastating disaster.Ē

It was nice to see FEMA encouraging private organizations and individuals to help, but millions of Americans around the country were a step ahead of Longís call.

The bearded bass fishermen and flat-bottomed boat owners ofthe informal ďThe Cajun NavyĒand thousands of other individual boaters drove straight to Houston to help people evacuate or pluck them from rooftops.

Like thousands of individuals, charities, churches and community groups, they answered Houstonís call for help spontaneously out of the goodness of their American hearts.

Americans have a history of helping out in disasters at home and abroad and itís been going on long before Jimmy Carterís administration created FEMA in 1978.

After a third of the city of Chicago was destroyed by the fire of 1871, it was private individuals, companies and charities that rebuilt it, not government.

Before the fire was even put out, the people of Cincinnati held a rally, raised $160,000 and sent it to Chicago. Other cities did the same, raising the equivalent of nearly $100 million in todayís money and donating much more in food and clothing.

The same thing happened in 1889 when 2,209 people of Johnstown, Pa., were swept to their deaths by a wall of water from a broken dam.

Americans from coast-to-coast contributed millions of dollars and sent so many relief supplies by rail to Johnstown that they were asked to stop.

As the city of Houston and its people already are learning, that kind of spontaneous private generosity is not just a tradition, itís part of Americaís DNA.

Today itís easier than ever to help victims of natural disasters. Thanks to web sites like PayPal you can send a $25 donation to the reputable charity of your choice with a click or two.

Thatís what I did, and when I get back home to Los Angeles, Iím going to go around the corner to the Red Cross office and give to Houston the old-fashioned way - with a check.