Opinion

Pierce County goes deep into heart of Texas

The Washington Task Force quickly mobilized to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They are one of 28 task forces around the country called on by the Federal Emergency Management Department (FEMA) when there is a widespread disaster.
The Washington Task Force quickly mobilized to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They are one of 28 task forces around the country called on by the Federal Emergency Management Department (FEMA) when there is a widespread disaster. Courtesy

Only hearts of stone could be unmoved by images that continue to pour out of the Gulf Coast region this week after Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane, turned streets into rivers and swallowed up thousands of homes and businesses.

At least 50 people across eight counties lost their lives in the late-August disaster. The search for more victims is still under way. Thousands remain warehoused in shelters with more people than available beds.

The magnitude of Harvey exceeded the response capability of government. So authorities in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., spread the word for residents with boats or other high-water vehicles to help with rescue efforts. Inflatable rafts meant for backyard pools carried stranded residents to safety.

Amid pictures of devastation are countless examples of compassion, heroism and random acts of kindness. The instinct to help quickly moved across city, county and state lines.

Even as the storm was raging, people across the nation headed toward the Texas Gulf coast, including a Pierce County task force made up of South Sound firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency responders. All have been trained in water rescue.

The 17-member team drove 38 hours towing two trailers, four boats, inflatable rafts and other gear. They stopped in College Station, Texas and got some shut-eye in a barn before moving on to Houston. The team is expected to stay in the region for two weeks.

Scott Heinze of the Pierce County Emergency Department correctly calls them heroes. They comprise the same task force that responded to Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Oso mudslide.

As one Pierce County sheriff deputy told King-5: “We might be from a different state, but it’s America. We come to do our part.”

These first responders aren’t the only Good Samaritans in Pierce County..

MultiCare Health System is providing travel assistance (airfare, hotel costs, etc.) for up to 25 nurses or doctors who are willing to lend a hand in the Gulf Coast region.

Another Tacoma company, Burkhart Dental Supply, is activating members of the dental community to rise up and support their peers. Less than 20 percent of homes and businesses in the gulf region had flood insurance. Burkhart is hoping to facilitate restoration of dental practices. It’s also cleared 5,000 square feet in its Dallas warehouse to stage humanitarian supplies.

Money is what’s needed most. Relief coordinators are asking folks to hold off on food, clothing and household items. Dona Ponepinto, president and CEO of United Way of Pierce County, says 100 percent of individual donations to her agency’s Harvey Recovery will go to affected areas in Texas and Louisiana.

Even donations of $5, $10 or $20 will make a difference, though Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman warns people to be on the lookout for scam artists. Check out a list of reputable charities on the Secretary of State website.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it will take a sustained commitment over years to rebuild after Harvey. Congress already approved the first $7.9 billion aid package. The Senate nearly doubled the request and passed a $15.3 billion aid package.

Stories of struggle will inevitably fade from front-page attention. Already the sun is shining over the Gulf Coast, but the area remains in peril.

Rivers and bayous in Southeast Texas and Louisiana are at record flooding levels, and the path of Hurricane Irma, the Category 5 monster now lashing the Caribbean and bearing down on Florida, remains in flux.

Recovery from these twin disasters will defy easy timelines. So must random acts of kindness and generosity.

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