Tropical storm Debby hit my area of Florida on June 26, 2012. My mother’s friend (sort of my friend, too, just an older lady) was flooded out of her place in the storm. She used to be a cat breeder, so she had nearly 20 cats in her place when it flooded. Luckily she was renting from someone who lived on the same property and she and the animals were able to move into her landlord’s house temporarily. She had also already been planning to move before the storm hit, so it wasn’t completely unexpected for her to find a new place. My mother was able to help her friend find a home, sort through her damaged belongings and get moved in. The hardest part was finding homes for the cats on such short notice. They were living in pet taxis and cages since the flood.

FEMA and other various disaster relief organizations have stepped up quickly and efficiently to help my mother’s friend, the animals, and every victim in the area. Even when FEMA can’t directly help someone with certain things, they have directed people to other people and places who can help.

All of my mother’s friend’s cats now have homes because of my mother, FEMA and other organizations.

The only thing I have needed from disaster relief is safe drinking water. My water comes out clear (many people have brown water since the storm), but I got sick after a little while from drinking it, so I had to get bottled water.

My mother, her friend and I went to FEMA recently to get help for our friend and water for us. While there I took some notes because I wanted to post about the disaster relief.

The following are mainly just my personal observations as I studied everyone in the building:

Upon entering the building, we were immediately greeting by FEMA’s security guard. He was a tall man in uniform with a large dark moustache, glasses and a gun holstered on his right hip. He maintained a serious demeanor, while still being friendly and helpful. He stood very straight and he walked the room with his hands clasped behind him.

The whole place was exceptionally organized and prepared. I imagined what it must have looked like when they first arrived and set up. I imagined the time it must have taken to get everything in such immaculate order. Lining the walls were separate stations with one to two people to each station. Every person had a dark grey Dell laptop computer, except one man who had a white Apple laptop. At each table there was a box of tissues, a roll of paper towels and a bottle of hand sanitizer. There were uncountable blue electrical cords all neatly taped together and to the floor. In the middle of the room there were stacks of boxes filled with packaged and canned foods, as well as necessities such as deodorant and nail clippers. Next to the boxes was a table with crayons and paper for the children. Then there were two lines of chairs with numbers by each one for the people who were waiting to be seen. The whole place was exceptionally clean, too. Even with all the people going in and out, the only spot of dirt on the floor was where someone had just tracked it in and it hadn’t yet been swept up.

Some of the stations included:

The sign-in station where they get everyone’s information and specific needs so that they can direct each person to the appropriate station. A counseling station where people can grieve their losses and have someone to talk to, and a mitigation station. There was a tele-register station, a housing assistance station and a Salvation Army station.

Every FEMA worker was very attentive to each person who came in. No one went unnoticed and everyone was given a chair to sit in. Even the workers who were clearly tired and not in the best mood were polite and attentive. I could tell that some of them were struggling. Every worker was busy and they didn’t exactly get breaks to step away and eat lunch, smoke a cigarette, or just relax for a bit. A blonde female FEMA worker slipped away discreetly to quickly eat some yogurt outside by the restrooms. I’d seen her inside before and she smiled at everyone and called out to anyone who wasn’t being tended to (including me, even though I didn’t need any help). I think the workers either weren’t allowed or didn’t want to eat inside in front of the storm victims since some of them didn’t have food. I felt bad for the blonde woman. Her eyes showed exhaustion and frustration, but she smiled at everyone she saw. These FEMA workers have obviously been working very hard to help people and to make everyone feel comfortable and safe.

Just an interesting observation- Nearly every single FEMA worker wore glasses.

It’s very hot and humid here in Florida. The FEMA building was very well air conditioned. The cool air was a huge relief for everyone. I bet they have quite the electric bill, though.

Disaster victims:

There was a middle-age gentleman in a crisp, clean, white and beige striped polo shirt. He gave his chair to my mother’s friend. A FEMA worker brought him another one and he thanked her, but then he gave that one to my mother. The FEMA worker brought him a chair once more. He then tried to give it to me. I thanked him and declined, so the FEMA worker brought me a chair. It was a little humorous that they almost couldn’t keep that kind man seated. I enjoyed observing him. He was very polite and considerate. When it was his turn to see someone for help, the first thing he did was ask the FEMA worker how she was and how her day was going. He didn’t just give the usual polite “Hey, how are you?” He leaned in closer, looked her in the eye, shook her hand, thanked her, and asked her how she was. He waited for her answer with a genuine expression of interest and care. I don’t know exactly what he lost in the storm, but I overheard him say something about needing a job. I think where he was previously employed was probably one of the many businesses flooded out here. I hope he finds work soon.

I watched a grandmother with her two grandchildren for a while. She was there with her daughter (the children’s mother) who was trying to get assistance. Both children were adorable little girls with dark brown hair. The older one was probably about five or six years old and the other one was just a baby. The older girl was full of energy, bouncing around with bright eyes. She was wearing a vibrant pink shirt, a colorful beaded necklace, and a cute little pale yellow plastic bow-shaped clip in her hair. Poor little thing was really struggling to stay close to her family and not touch things she wasn’t supposed to. The baby was happy in her pink, toy-like stroller. She was chewing on and playing with a plastic water bottle. When her mother returned, she took her out of the stroller and played with her. The baby squirmed happily giggling in her mother’s lap. I thought about myself as a child while I watched the family. I wondered if the older girl had any idea what they were doing there, what had happened, what she and her family had lost. She was young enough that she probably couldn’t really understand. I remember at that age I was aware of things, but I also sort of just went through the motions with some things. Most children seem to have the unique ability to forget the bad and just live in the present moment. It’s something to be admired, really. Something bad can happen to them and they can be happy and playing the next day. It doesn’t mean they’ve fully forgotten the bad thing that happened, but rather they’ve just put it out of their mind for a bit so they can enjoy the present moment completely. I love children.

I was a bit taken aback by all of the storm victims. Every single one of them had clearly tried to go to FEMA clean and well-dressed. I don’t often see people dress up and make an effort when they’ve lost so much and are asking for help. Even a sweaty young man who appeared to have a cold or the flu was nicely dressed in a bright green and blue polo shirt, khaki shorts and sandals.

At one point an elderly woman with a cane sat next to me. As she approached she was telling a FEMA worker that she didn’t want much help because she didn’t want to take away from people who have lost more. I thought maybe she just needed some water like me or had only suffered a little home-damage. The FEMA worker said “Well you’ve clearly been affected by the storm.” I only got a minute to talk to her, but I found out that her entire home had been underwater. How can someone lose more than everything?

FEMA is helping everyone with absolutely everything they need. They are providing food, clothing and necessities through the Salvation Army, as well as directing people to churches and charities which are helping with everyone’s needs. FEMA is providing free clean up services for people, as well as damage assessments and financial assistance to those who have lost their homes and/or belongings. They also don’t delay in anything. They move as quickly as they can and get things done.

I was very impressed by FEMA and each person individually who is helping in my area. The organization as well as the individual people deserve so much more recognition and appreciation than I can give them. I’d like people to know what they’re doing here, though, and how great they’ve been. I wish I could thank them all personally for everything they’re doing to help the people in my town. Each one of them is sacrificing something in their own lives to be here to help everyone in need. They are getting our town and community back on its feet, safely and as comfortably as possible.

I deeply appreciate and respect anyone who helps others in any way. People who do for others should be greatly revered.

If anyone would like to comment and share some personal experiences either in giving help or in receiving help, I would love to hear your stories.