Katrina#039;s wake left only shock, numbness and loss

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Don’t turn away from Harvey Jackson. And don’t turn away from the thousands of other Harvey Jacksons who’ve lost everything but the clothes on their backs to Hurricane Katrina’s terrible power.

I don’t cry easily, but the news footage of Jackson, a Biloxi resident, has moved me to tears every time I’ve seen it. You see, Katrina sacked and pillaged everything he had. Everything except the bewildered children at his side.

While trapped on top of his home as the swirling waters rose, Jackson was faced with the choice of saving his wife, Tonette, or his kids.

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Even the strongest man, the best father, can’t fight nature’s wrath, can’t hold back the sea, can’t cling onto everybody at once. When the torrents finally tugged harder than Jackson’s grip, his wife told him to take care of the children before her body slipped beneath the rising waters.

How would you like to live with that for the rest of your life?

Then Jackson’s house split in two.

When a reporter found him, Jackson was obviously in shock, wandering down a Biloxi street, numbed by a God-awful heartache most of us will have the good fortune to never know.

Sometimes it’s a blessing our minds can’t comprehend what’s just happened. A distraught Jackson shook his head in disbelief as his words came tumbling out.

&uot;(Our house) just opened up. She was with me, but I can’t find her. I held her hand as tight as I could. She’s gone. I’m lost. I’ve lost all that I had.&uot;

I don’t know why Jackson didn’t evacuate his family. Maybe he thought they could ride out the storm. Maybe they didn’t have a car or couldn’t get a ride to a shelter. Maybe they thought things would be OK.

The why, though, is immaterial here. We’ve all misjudged. No one deserves that kind of pain.

I’m left wondering what’s to become of this lost soul and his two little ones. And how many others like him, having witnessed the unthinkable, are stuck in attics or on rooftops, numbed at the turn their lives have taken.

God willing, they’ll find safety, shelter and a hot meal somewhere.

Hundreds of thousands are without food and water. Emergency officials estimate that the storm may eventually leave 1 million residents homeless. Congress should be thinking fast about a Work Projects Administration-type cleanup effort.

There’s a sense in America that natural disasters only happen in exotic lands chock full of dirt-poor people. Catastrophes of biblical proportions come to pass in Bangladesh, India or Sudan. Not here. Not in our rich country.

But all the money in the national treasury couldn’t keep Mother Nature at bay. And we suddenly have a lot more destitute folks after Katrina.

Americans are a generous people. Pictures of the Asian tsunami last December prompted us to open our checkbooks to the tune of $340 million. Surely we can do the same for our own.

Help, please. Call the American Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW, the Salvation Army at 1-800-SAL-ARMY, or your church denomination’s disaster relief committee.

Don’t send clothes, fans, canned goods or bottled water. They only get in the way of relief efforts. Send cash, and let the experts put it to good use.

As we return to our cozy homes, make a nice hot dinner and plop down in front of the tube to gawk at hurricane damage, we see the devastation but can’t really know the immense suffering - physical and mental - 1,000 miles south.

Anyone with second thoughts about feeding, clothing and sheltering his fellow countrymen in dire need would do well to recall his Sunday school Deuteronomy (15:11):

“Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy in thy land.”

One day, Harvey Jackson could be us.

Bronwyn Lance Chester is a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. Readers may write to her at The Virginian-Pilot, 150 West Brambleton Avenue, Norfolk, Va. 23510, or send her e-mail at bronwyn.chester@pilotonline.com.