The thing about a really big hurricane spreading death and destruction everywhere is that it will, with a certainty, bring out the very worst and the very best, in human beings. As the forecasts pushed the bull’s eye closer and closer to the Floridian coast, more and more people began what would start as an evacuation and end as an Exodus. Unlike those who saw Katrina coming, those who foresaw what Irma would bring, fled, and fled hard, and fled early. Northbound I-75 into Georgia became packed with cars and truck, packed with people and belongs, fleeing for their very lives.
Immediately, gas stations rushed to jack up their prices to the very margin of robbery, and people rushed to pay the price before all fuel tanks were sucked dry by those who were fleeing. Traffic just off exits, Two, Five, Eleven, Sixteen, Twenty-two, and Twenty-nine, the first exits in Georgia, became snarled knots of angry and frustrated human beings. Fast food places were packed, hotels had no vacancies, and gas station lines stretched out longer and longer.
Yet there were people, common people who could expect no compensation for their efforts, out trying to help. Off of State Route Seven, someone set up a table and chairs and propped up a sign that said simply, “Free Food for Evacuees” and they gave out sandwiches until they ran out of food themselves. The Humane Society of Valdosta/Lowndes County gave away their entire stock of Powerade that had been donated to them for a 5K to linemen headed into Florida. The local churches pushed their chairs and pews to one side and laid out cots, endless rows of cots, for those people who could not find any room at any inn. Men with big trucks and chainsaws cleared local roads when the winds came. People volunteered for help in shelters, and the word went out as the winds picked up and the rain pounded down, “We have room, we have food, we will help.”
I met a man who fled the storm, his name was Ray and he had picked up and left Florida two days before the storm hit. Ray had seen this sort of thing before, and rented a room in Valdosta a week before the storm, and had rented it for two weeks. Ray and his wife had never been to South Georgia and didn’t know what to expect. The people, Ray told me, were unusually nice, friendly, and helpful. He asked me if this sort of thing was common, and I told him it was, and that he and his wife would be safe here. They had plenty of food in their cooler, and they had brought some canned goods. If the power stayed on and if they could still get food in stores, was there somewhere they could donate what they had brought?
By nature, I am a Hermit, and the ill that my species has done drives me to live in the woods alone, and with no one but trees and dogs as company. Yet as I stood in my backyard after the storm had passed, looking at the downed trees and the debris, I realized that like nature, human beings both wreck and they help, they destroy and they heal, and they, in the worst of times, can be the best that they can be.