It is all too easy to look at the devastation that savaged our neighbors in Texas last week and realize that a few changes in weather fronts could have brought the storm called Harvey and its attendant horrors to our doorsteps. Last week we returned to work and school after two days of minor flooding and related inconvenience. Grocery stores and restaurants have food, gas stations have fuel and power flows uninterrupted through our wires.
But we need not be smug. The 2017 hurricane season has a good bit to go, and there is no telling when the right – or wrong – combination of factors will place us in the center of the bull’s eye.
Nonetheless as mentioned, there were some issues and therefore some words that need to be said.
For the few families among us who suffered flooding in their homes, comparisons are empty and meaningless. Flood damage, ugly, smelly and daunting in all of its forms is no less painful to cope with even if isolated. If it’s your home, it makes no difference if thousands of your neighbors flooded or if your home was the only one on the block. It is important to remember, as we assess the effects of Harvey’s feeder bands on the Bayou Region, that the storm’s vexing flirtations with us, paltry as they might have been, could have been much worse. Some pumping systems were overwhelmed by particularly heavy downpours Tuesday morning. Water rose in a number of places, though in most cases not high enough to cause significant problems. When those pumps caught up the water went down. Barricades disappeared. Life went on.
Things weren’t always that simple.
Back before the levees and gates that now protect us, and the expansion of pumps that are a first line of defense in many neighborhoods, similar storm experiences had far less benevolent outcomes. Water on some lawns might not have stopped at the doorsteps. Evacuations would have been necessary. And we didn’t need a devastating storm hundreds of miles away for that to be the case. A strong south wind sufficed.
Behind the levees and gates, the pumps and protocols, are men and women who fought for years to make such protections a reality. Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove, while a state legislator, State Sen. Norby Chabert, former State Rep. Joe Harrison and others make up a partial list of the people who finessed and cajoled enough to make our protection systems a reality. Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Director Reggie Dupre and, in Lafourche, Wendell Curole, as well as State Rep. Jerome Zeringue are among others on the honor roll. Angela Raines at the Levee District and Debbie Ortego in the Parish President’s office are among people who make sure things get done. Earl Eues, Terrebonne Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness made sure the response to our little piece of Harvey was smooth, coordinated responses, and was available to answer questions from reporters even when they were not always wise enough to check in. The sheriffs of Terrebonne and Lafourche, Jerry Larpenter and Craig Webre, the chiefs of police in Thibodaux, Houma and other jurisdictions and all of their deputies and officers, the firefighters throughout both parishes, all of these made and kept people sage. Mike Toups, the Terrebonne Parish Director of Public Works, did yeoman’s work during Harvey, as did all the people under him.
All the people – the ones there is not enough room to list – they are the ones with hands on wrenches and eyes on gauges, riding around in trucks with the parish logo on them, they also kept us safe. They perform their jobs without fanfare, without recognition. The work is sometimes wet and dirty and thankless and people get hollered at, but they perform these jobs every day and they need to be thanked here as well.
There are complaints about how some things were handled. That’s normal. We urge all those who work so hard to keep us safe not to be defensive. Use the critique as a basis for improvement. But know that all that every one of you do and have done is appreciated.
Thank you, each and every one. •