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A coming together

Fri, Sep 7th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) worker. I wasn't looking forward to it but it turned out to be an interesting chat. He was a young man no older than 40 and relatively senior in the inspector ranks. I was unaware that all the damage inspectors are private contractors not government employees. I also was unaware that they must remain ready to go anywhere a disaster is declared within 24 hours of the declaration. Doesn't matter that you had a wedding coming up or a dentist appointment, you just go. I didn't know that they don't get paid an hourly wage but are paid on the number of claims they deal with. No disaster - no pay check. Tough job.

We talked about 9-11 and the Katrina disaster and how different this disaster in SE Mn was from both of the others he had recently worked. For starters the worker remarked how honest all the people were he was dealing with, evidently in other parts of the country there is much more of a penchant to stretch the truth about the extent of loss or whether a person has insurance or not. We talked some about how remarkable so many people were in rising to the occasion to help their neighbors and friends. How many times people just came and helped out total strangers just because they knew they needed help. Evidently that doesn't always happen in other places.

We talked a little about my next door neighbor who was one of the fatalities. He described to me how difficult it was for him to talk with families who had lost loved ones and have to ask about funeral costs so he could try to arrange reimbursement. We talked about spending long days talking with people, many who had lost all they had, all day long. We talked a bit about how you sleep at night after a day of dealing with nothing but pain and anguish. Tough job. We talked about how incredible it was that there were only 7 fatalities when it could easily have been many more.

We talked about how difficult it was for a FEMA worker to be away from family and loved ones for weeks often months, how hard that was on marriages and children.

Disasters are painful for everyone and everyone's loss is unique to their situation. I lost a neighbor and friend and a good bit of my mile and a quarter drive way. Yet I was able to sleep in my bed at night. My heart aches for those who lost so many things precious to them. Believe it or not the FEMA worker too anguished over the suffering he was seeing.

If there is anything positive to be taken from this disaster it's how the people of this area have pulled together and how people not from this area have come to help. Together we all may just be better human beings because of it.

Kevin Kelleher lives in Houston County.

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