Isabel will make us stronger

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Hurricane Isabel knocked us around pretty good, but she failed to knock us out. Yeah, she knocked out the power, but the real power remains where it’s always been – in the spirit of our communities. While the force of a hurricane is very tangible for a short time, the powerful spirit of community becomes discernible only when threatened.

Before the winds of Isabel abated, families were banding together to meet the new challenges, neighbors were helping neighbors, and good Samaritans were doing what they could to ease the burdens of those in need of assistance. Isabel blew down a lot of trees and damaged many houses, but she couldn’t touch the spirit that makes our small, rural communities and towns so special.

And though some are still without power and some are annoyed that their routines have been disrupted, most of us are very, very fortunate. Considering the physical devastation to our area, it is astonishing that so few of us were injured and that so many of us now have power and are able to get back to our normal lives.

Looking around St. John and Ahoskie on Friday made the estimates that we’d be without power for two weeks seem reasonable. With so many trees and power lines downed by Isabel, I was absolutely amazed when the power came on in St. John Sunday night.

I want to personally thank all the employees of Roanoke Electric Cooperative and Dominion Power – and all those they brought in to help – for restoring power to so many people so quickly. I’m not alone. Everybody I’ve spoken with has been amazed at how quickly power has been restored and how much has been accomplished.

Department of Transportation workers have been out every day and every night clearing the roads – giving all of us access to food, water and other essentials when all was closed tight in our communities. These men and women are often the butt of &uot;state worker&uot; jokes, but when you take a moment to see the results of what they do you develop a genuine appreciation for the hard work they do – not just during this emergency, but whenever they’re needed or even in the routine performance of their duties.

Roads and power. What in the world would we do without roads and power? If you wanted to do something Thursday night, you know the answer to that question – &uot;not much!&uot;

And telephones, too. I’ve never been overly fond of the phone company (generically speaking), but my phone worked before, during and after Hurricane Isabel tore through the area. For every bad thought I’ve ever directed at the phone company, I now want to neutralize with good will for the line workers who kept the phones working or got them working again.

Although I didn’t personally have encounters with EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), firefighters, or law enforcement officers, I know they were out there helping those who did need them. Back in my reporter days, I got to know some of these men and women – developing a healthy respect for their dedication to helping others and their concern for their neighbors. I know that had I needed them – if anyone needed them – no measly hurricane would have kept them from doing all within their power to help.

And there are many, many others who went out of their way to help other people, from town maintenance crews to social workers. I don’t know who all of them are because I’ve been a out of the communication loop, but I hope they all know how much most of us appreciate their selflessness and dedication to doing good.

We can’t do it alone. We didn’t get where we are as a people by ignoring the needs of others. Every region – not just the Roanoke-Chowan area – can boast of dedicated people in their communities, but I really think we’ve got the best right here.

Kim and I fared well in St. John. Many of our neighbors lost trees and suffered significant damage to their homes, but none of our trees fell and we only had a little bit of roof damage. We were very lucky to have such minor damage and we know it.

But the spirit of community is so strong in some people that the amount of damage doesn’t matter. Two St. John men – Wayne Lassiter Sr. and Wayne Lassiter Jr. – went from home to home Monday to patch roofs in St. John in anticipation of the rain that came in early Tuesday morning. I don’t know how many roofs they scaled, assessed and patched, but they worked all day. In fact, the sun had set when they left our house to go patch one more.

They did it for free because they wanted to help their neighbors. When they left here late Monday afternoon they were dog tired, but were still smiling and cordial. Several people in St. John were spared the further headache of coping with leaks Tuesday because of these two fine men. I want to thank them again for helping us. When it comes to fixing things, I’m…er…not much good at it, so their extra effort to help the folks in St. John is deeply appreciated.

This is a great place to live. Maybe it takes an Isabel every now and then to help us realize that. I’m sorry for everyone’s losses during this tough time, but from where I’m sitting all Isabel did is make us stronger. We’ll bounce back and become stronger than ever because of the nature and spirit the people living here. We lost some things because of Hurricane Isabel, but we gained something far more important.