Mother Nature, meet human nature

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2021

In recent years, we have become accustomed to freak weather event after freak weather event. Last summer, in the midst of the global pandemic that we are still confronting, there were repeated hurricanes and tropical storms — a record 30 named storms in all.

And just when we were hoping to put the bad news of 2020 behind us, the early winter of 2021 brought a succession of polar events sweeping down through the U.S. heartland and Deep South. Snow and ice knocked out power, shut down interstate highways and left dozens of people dead.

All of these events — each catastrophic to the people most directly affected — have confirmed what we all certainly know by now. Natural disasters can produce the absolute best — and worst — in human nature.

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The freezing temperatures set records for depth and longevity throughout much of the nation. President Biden declared emergencies in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Texas clearly fared the worst. Much of its electric grid, which is only partially connected to the wider U.S. grid, failed. Municipal water supplies were damaged severely by the lack of power and hospital staffs were in some instances hauling buckets of rainwater to flush toilets.

What happened to the electric grid will be a topic for Texas residents to debate and try to correct later. The decisions made by Republican state leaders during the past few decades with respect to whether the state needed cheap electricity more than it needed electric power redundancy will undoubtedly be hot political topics.

But, for the past two weeks Texans have been too busy trying to survive day-to-day to worry about long-range political issues. And for the most part, they have done so by helping each other.

The Dallas News has been full of accounts of neighborhood heroes. In one instance, a team of neighbors set up an informal call center to check on other residents who they thought might need help. They would call and simply ask “What do you need?” and go from there.

University of Texas students were isolated in unheated quarters, like much of the state’s population, and unable to get hot meals. A group of professors began pooling personal money to buy hot meals for the students.

Homes that had fireplaces became community warming centers. Less fortunate neighbors were invited to come in and sit by a welcome fire for a while.

The Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonprofit similar in mission to our local Christian Outreach Program, called in all its resources to provide food, water and whatever else was needed.

“The only thing that has gotten us through this is a sense of community,” an interfaith leader was quoted as saying.

Of course, there’s always people who will look after their own needs ahead of anyone else. In Texas last week, the symbol of that attitude was U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Mr. Cruz, his wife, children and an unspecified number of friends decided the power outages and the suffering they wrought were just not bearable, so they packed up and went to Cancun for a few days. Word of the Cruz foray south quickly got out and, caught with his pants down — or perhaps his swim trunks on — Mr. Cruz hurried back to Texas. Once back home, he tried to do damage control, not to his state for the freezing weather, but to his own reputation.

And, of course, he blamed someone else — in this instance, his 9- and 10-year-old daughters, who didn’t like the cold and wanted to take a vacation. Wanting to be a good daddy, he took them south.

Other good daddies, meanwhile, were shoveling snow, carrying food to shut-ins, volunteering to help cook in “warming centers” and generally teaching their children that when the neighborhood is in trouble, everybody pitches in.

It’s all a matter of where your priorities lie, and when the chips are down, that makes a huge difference.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is