By Noah Schlesinger
In May, 2015, massive flooding devastated the Austin,Texas area. San Francisco Hillel has sent 7 students to contribute to the long-term recovery effort; here are their reflections.
Throughout Alternative Break, I’ve been honored to hear accounts from survivors, first responders, and volunteers what it was like to live through the horrendous 2015 floods. I’ve listened as they shared their stories of survival and pain, and I’ve worked hard to help in any small way I can while I’m here. I’m leaving this trip inspired that people have traveled here from every corner of the country, drawn together to Texas through empathy and the aim to do good for people who lost everything.
As all the different narratives sink in, I keep reflecting on how the theme of unpredictability weaves these diverse perspectives and experiences together.
Most natural disasters are almost wholly impossible to prepare for. Storms and flood water simply can’t be stopped. And therefore governments, both federal and local, have an enormous challenge in planning for and responding to the environmental, structural and human loss that follows. Again and again the Texans we spoke with echoed the same story: when the water came, no one could tell where it would go. And once people’s homes were gone, there was no sense of when they would get help. Many felt the government hand didn’t or couldn’t stretch far enough. Some of the survivors mentioned that so little government aid was given, that if third party organizations (like us) hadn’t stepped up to help in big ways they wouldn’t have been able to rebuild. It’s hard enough to lose your home; to be forced to pick up the pieces not knowing what resources are available to you seems altogether impossible.
Another part of the San Marcos story, is the unpredictable way the storm turned strangers into community. So many people who wouldn’t have crossed paths without this tragedy were brought together across state and party lines. When faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges and uncertain futures, we’ve learned that tapping into our empathy creates the space for compassion, action and growth.