When the Camera Stops Rolling

When natural disasters strike, millions of eyes turn toward the affected area. People donate time and money to help people they have never met. All that money and labor goes toward the immediate aftermath. However, when the storm fades into a memory and the camera crews leave, there is still work to do.

I went to Houston over winter break to help a family whose house had been flooded in Hurricane Harvey. Their entire neighborhood had been running with bayou water. So much water was flowing through their streets that motor boats had to be used to evacuate people. The cameras captured it all. They saw the wind battering one of America’s great cities. They saw the people clinging to mailboxes as they waited for a boat to rescue them.

And they saw the people who didn’t get rescued. 82 people died in Hurricane Harvey. Thousands more were displaced because their houses were uninhabitable. People’s lives were destroyed, but almost nobody realized it because by that time, the water had receded and the camera crews had packed up and left.

I went to a house in which a man had died. It had become a sort of impromptu memorial. The man’s partner had spray painted their own house. Inside more spray paint marked where his body had been found. “I Love You, Baby,” was painted on the floor.

On the garage, someone, maybe a child, had contributed, “I think Bob was a good man.”

The entire house was gutted to the studs. Windows were broken and trash littered the yard.

Bob’s partner’s life has been torn apart. The country has widely forgotten the storm that ripped apart Houston, but to the people affected, that memory is still fresh.

Even in households where everyone survived, they still have to rebuild. One story houses had to be gutted, and all the furniture thrown out. In two story homes, everything not upstairs was destroyed.

We tend to forget a tragedy has occurred unless we are constantly reminded of it. Somehow, we Americans have chosen that the offensive Trump Tweet is more important than the millions of our citizens’ living in squalor.

Humans have short memories because they have to. When we were still nomadic, we couldn’t afford to mourn a loss. We now can, and it’s time we start caring about people when the camera stops rolling.