This past Wednesday’s storms in Alabama have become the most deadly tornadoes in Alabama’s history. Over 250 confirmed dead, still over 500 unaccounted for in Tuscaloosa alone. Still at least 40,000 without power, expectations that some will be without power until next week. Power lines down, houses crushed, cars thrown about and missing, pets missing, loved ones gone, there is nothing good about what happened, yet.
But for all its destruction, the event was no Katrina. Locally the damage was equal, fatality-wise it greatly exceeded (more on a par with Camille), but there is one huge aspect that this storm does not share with the windy bitch. Katrina-type damage is not merely the widespread destruction of property, belongings, and deaths, but one where everyone is in the same exact boat. Tornadoes have the ability to cause destruction like hurricanes, but their path is minimized. Yes, it’s odd to say that a mile wide path over 80 miles long is minimized, but when compared to the damage of a hurricane, it is. In the coverage of every tornado there are pictures, and at least one reporter who comments about how one side of the street was completely destroyed while the other side was untouched. For the most part, this storm did not leave many streets untouched, however, there remains people who are going about their normal lives as if it has not happened. Some went to work, some went on vacation, I live on a lake that had at least one fishing tournament on it. I saw the truck and trailers on my way to help someone without power and storm damage. Fast food restaurants were open, for lunch the couple I went to help provided hamburgers from Burger King (I was expecting canned spaghetti served cold). Normality has continued. Sure the talk at work centered on how people were, did you get damage, what are you doing to help? But the talk went on at work. At least 2 music and art festivals went on mere miles from areas under National Guard enforced curfews.
After Katrina, everyone was working, but no one was at work. Your house was damaged, your job location was damaged, the corner convenience store was damaged, the grocery store was damaged, Wal-Mart was damaged. Nothing escaped the storm, and even if it did, everyone was so busy picking up the pieces of their own lives that no one was expected to be at work as usual. The word normal took on a new meaning. Even if they had opened up, no one could deliver new products, no new food, no new gas. No one could buy a new designer suit and shoes from the cute boutique in downtown because even if there was still a road beneath the debris, there was no downtown.
Many would say that the events of this storm changed them and the way they feel about what God can do. I do not. My Katrina experience did. I know what God can do. It does not amaze me how temporary what we build is. This is not to say I am unawed by the destruction. This is not to say I am unmoved by the damage. All I am saying is that I finally realized the ephemeral, transitory nature of our impact on this world.
On 29 August 2005, I heard a man on the radio say, “It’s worse than Camille.” My first thought was, “No it’s not. You do not know what you are talking about.” As the day wore on and the destruction became more clear I conceded that the man, whether he knew it or not, was correct. This was not a matter that mere pictures or video could relay. It took standing on the ground, surrounded by 360 degrees of destruction for as far as the eye could see–even over the water–to truly grasp the enormity of it. It was/is this immersion in the power of the Almighty’s hand in wiping out not only our fleeting attempts at change, but His own work of geology, geography, and botany that changed my outlook on all I see. That is what the phrase “like Katrina” means to me.
It is not a simple show of destructive force. It is not a simple swath of damage. It is a mind alternating, view changing, epiphany of a glimpse into the will of God. Strong words, for a strong adjective. Anything less would be like describing World War II as a disagreement between a few people. It would be like saying that someone knocked down the World Trade Center a few years ago. Accurate statements? Yes, but do they convey the depth of emotions or the complete range of actions? Never, not even close.
I was moved by Hurricane Katrina. I was changed in a way that I cannot be changed back. I no longer need to be reminded of God’s destructive power because I carry a constant reminder. After being engulfed in Katrina I cannot look at anything the same again. Big events like storms, fires, floods, small events like recessions and political elections, even mundane events like a lone driver with a flat tire as I drive to work. The power of God, the opportunity for His will shine forth in everything after seeing the transitory nature of our best efforts.
No, this was not Alabama’s Katrina. Or was it? I can only hope.
Update: After Hurricane Katrina, the state of Alabama put into place a system whereby the official death toll of a natural disaster would not exceed the actual total as normally happens (and alluded to in my previous post). A doctor or medical examiner are the only people who can elevate the death toll, as a result many people were not counted until the day after the storms. When this post was first written, the death toll was over 250, as of the morning of 3 May, it is at 236. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It may be cliché, but it is still true.