It’s hard to face the devastation that occurred last week, not far from us in terms both geographic and sentimental. It’s one more disaster in a year that has been full of them.
But the least we should do is bear witness to the suffering. And we can do more than that.
A string of destructive and deadly tornadoes struck parts of the central and southern United States late Friday and early Saturday, including, perhaps most notably, Kentucky, where the death toll, as we write, exceeds 80. Their ages range from 5 months to 86 years. Dozens of deaths have been confirmed across Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Tennessee. Many cities and communities have been left in ruins. One tornado is believed to have covered over 250 miles in four states.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called the storm “the most devastating tornado event in our state’s history.”
“Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe what I am feeling,” wrote freelance writer Skylar Baker-Jordan, a former Bowling Green resident, in The Independent.
Volunteers rushed to the devastated areas, taking necessities in bulk, setting up homemade kitchens and supply lines, in the best of American traditions. But for all their generosity, volunteer efforts can only do so much. Events of this magnitude require organized, well-managed responses and large-scale resources to be effective.
President Biden quickly signed an emergency declaration for Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, clearing the way for federal agencies and funds to pour in. He assured residents, “Whatever is needed, the federal government is going to find a way to supply it.” He plans to visit the area on Wednesday to survey the damage.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent an urban search-and-rescue team to Kentucky as well as temporary housing units. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas toured the devastation on Sunday and promised “we’re not there temporarily. We’re there with them the whole way. The president has made that commitment. He has directed us accordingly, and I can assure the people that will indeed be the case.”
This is not one of those infamous Reaganite moments when the offer of government assistance should be considered “terrifying.” The residents in the tornadoes’ path have already seen “terrifying.” They’ve already felt the loss of life and personal property. Thousands are now faced with meeting the day while lacking electrical power, water, food and shelter. They face trying to survive amid rubble, amid shock, confusion and deep personal loss.
We can help too, from here, with donations to organizations like the Red Cross and the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund established by Gov. Beshear: https://secure.kentucky.gov/formservices/Finance/WKYRelief
Being part of a great nation like the United States of America means being united with others and helping when help is needed. We’ll hope for a little bit of that e pluribus unum spirit now.
This is no time for “gotcha” politics, but it’s hard to ignore Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s swift and unqualified support for federal assistance now following his long career of regularly voting against such aid for other states, including New York following Hurricane Sandy in 2013 and Texas following Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
A spokesperson for Paul criticized those who were “politicizing” the disaster — but that’s what Paul has done repeatedly over the last decade, leaping at opportunities to portray disaster relief as “great compassion with someone else’s money.”
Whose money is he asking for now?
We in North Carolina have had our own experiences with deadly tornadoes and other natural disasters. There will be more, and they’ll be worse, because we’ve for so long been blithe to the effects of our industries and our lifestyles on our environment.
Incidents such as last week’s tornadoes threaten to be the “new normal,” Deanne Criswell, FEMA’s administrator, said on Sunday, calling climate change “the crisis of our generation.”