Last week, headlines heralded the arrival of the Perseid meteor showers, a lovely light show available to those with a clear evening sky.
But here in south Louisiana, gathering clouds obstructed the view, and the clouds themselves produced a darker spectacle of nature. Days of relentless rain spread death, destruction and misery throughout the region.
A state already exhausted by emergency is now tested by circumstances no one would choose. After a year of spring flooding, state budget crises, and the shocking shootings in Baton Rouge, more trouble touches a tired community.
Thousands of homes and businesses have been impacted directly or indirectly by the flooding, many of the victims in neighborhoods that have never had high water before. Gov. John Bel Edwards, whose official residence in Baton Rouge was also flooded, has declared a state of emergency. The flood has also claimed several lives.
Edwards said Sunday that at least 7,000 people had been rescued. The sight of stranded residents pulled into boats as waters rise to the rooftops is a sadly familiar one in Louisiana. Our resilience in previous disasters — hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav — was a testament to our will to prevail against powerful and painful catastrophes. We will need that inner strength again, and it is already evident in the footage and photographs of neighbors helping neighbors, and first responders answering the call of duty.
Behind those first responders are second and third responders, too – those who will face the complicated aftermath of this tragedy. A disaster this large calls for deep commitment at the federal, state and local levels. In a season of cynicism about the effectiveness of government, now is the time to put our people above party. The president, Congress, state and community leaders must embrace a shared commitment to Louisiana’s recovery.
The full dimensions of our challenge are not yet known. Many roads remain impassable, and National Guard vehicles rolling to the rescue remind us that we’re at war with weather again — a conflict that, like most wars, will not be won in a single day or even a single month.
Our hearts and prayers are with those most impacted. Their courage comforts us, perhaps more than we can ever comfort them. For those who have been distressed but not defeated, we wish clearer skies. In Louisiana, as it turns out, we don’t have to gaze at the heavens in search of miracles. To paraphrase a poet of old, our strength is not in the stars, but in ourselves.