From the joy of my daughter's wedding in Utah last weekend to the devastation of the Gulf Coast ... it feels a little like shipping out to war. I came because ... well, because I couldn't stay at home and just watch.
Last night, I helped unload two Red Cross 18-wheelers full of 12,000 gallons of bottled water. Today, we'll clamber on a few ruined roofs to begin the process of "drying in" -- sealing the holes temporarily against the humid, rainy weather. The air is already starting to stink of rotten food, tossed out of powerless, dank refrigerators and freezers. Reliefs crews are as thick as the mosquitoes. The wreckage is somewhat less than we saw three years ago with Rita, but if a tree sliced through your home -- as it did in the house next door to where I am staying -- then Rita was literally just a breeze compared to Ike.
Most evacuees haven't yet returned to this purgatory. It's not exactly a ghost town, but neither is it a vibrant place. An 8 p.m. curfew is still enforced, although scattered reports of looting are circulating. Maybe true, maybe not. Stores are opening in dribs and drabs, but usually only for a few hours. The days and nights are cool, thank God, making working and sleeping a little easier.
There is a resignation here. To storms. To disappointment. To the Sissyphean tasks of patching up a landscape and lives that will likely be wracked again in a month, a season, a year or a lifetime. The second most common thing you hear here is: "That's what insurance is for."
The first most common is actually a sign of hope: "Is everybody OK at your house?"