Columnists > Voices

Water log

Even wealth, resilience, and resourcefulness are no match for hurricane season's fury

Issue: "Rathergate," Sept. 25, 2004

I was all ready in this space this week-until some wise people stopped me-to tell you how you almost didn't get last week's issue of WORLD.

I was out of the state when it happened, but I wanted you to hear how our stalwart editorial and production teams worked around the handicaps produced by Hurricane Frances and the worst flooding our town of Asheville, N.C., has suffered in a century.

WORLD's weekly deadline comes every Thursday afternoon. That means that Wednesday and Thursday tend to be the busiest days of every week. But early on Wednesday, Sept. 8, Frances's torrential leftovers were finding it more and more difficult to squeeze through the banks of the two rivers that usually flow languidly through our town. The Swannanoa River, in particular, exploded to something like 20 times its normal volume. Fearing that one big dam might have been compromised, local authorities reluctantly but deliberately made the downstream situation worse by releasing millions of gallons to reduce pressure on the dam.

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Cars were flipped on their roofs, bridges ripped out, and both houses and businesses dissolved in the rampage. Debra Meissner, who joined us as director of circulation just six months ago-and who, ironically, had moved here with her husband from Florida, and who had spent the previous few days checking up regularly on her mother and friends at home in Florida-lost most of her worldly possessions to the suddenly berserk stream.

Hundreds of businesses-including ours-lost their power. Computers were down, producing a company-wide amnesia about the issue which by that time was about two-thirds complete. It was bad enough that we had no access to what was already done, and much worse that we had no tools to start over again. Authorities said it might be two or three days before power would be available again. Phones were also dead, and so, of course, was the internet that normally lets our far-flung team communicate minute-by-minute as if they were in the same room.

"But really!" said my trusty staff and family critics, when they saw my first-draft description of how resourcefully they had pitched in to ensure that WORLD would not miss its deadline. "Isn't that a little self-focused when you think about the devastation others have suffered?"

So I compared. Here in the Carolina mountains, experts say losses may well hit $75 million to $100 million-but no lives lost. In Florida-pre-Ivan-losses had easily passed $15 billion, with scores of deaths.

Yet even Florida's staggering anguish has been eclipsed by what has been suffered by folks in Grenada, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries.

"Even when it pours, God reigns," said the sign outside one church. But up and down the paths of Charley, Frances, and then Ivan, there had to be thousands of people wrestling with the meaning of God's severe sovereignty in their own lives and circumstances.

The cleanup in our own area moves quickly. The United States is an incredibly wealthy place, and our resources for recovery are immense. Florida will hurt much longer, for the damage there is so much more widespread. But history says they too will recover; our capacity for mending after such disasters is almost embarrassing.

I was self-focused almost as soon as I got home. I was smugly gratified that my own house had kept out every single drop of unwanted water. I was, as a good friend reminded me, like the hymn-writer John Newton, who thanked God profoundly for deliverance from a major storm at sea-and then went ahead and traded slaves for seven more years.

So instead of telling you how grateful you should be that you actually got last week's issue-on time and almost certainly without a watermark-maybe I should have hoped that it didn't arrive at all. Maybe I should have asked you to spend the time you'd normally invest in reading an issue of WORLD praying instead for those now suffering in the Caribbean and even in Florida.

For wealth, resilience, and resourcefulness are in the end altogether relative. Can we really imagine that the storm's fury we so marginally escaped this time will always be someone else's problem? Or that the pipsqueak voice of WORLD magazine, providentially preserved this one time, will always be here to tell you about it?

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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