Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Representing the 1st District of Nebraska

Fort Report: Hope for America

Sep 15, 2017
Fort Report

In a shelter in Houston, Todd walked around and around his bed. A Bible lay open in the middle of it. He had made notes around certain passages. Todd was recovering from the great flood.

Todd’s story started when he saw the water rising toward his home. To preserve his things, he put all of his belongings on the kitchen counters. Exhausted, he went back upstairs in his apartment to lie down, thinking he would be safe from the rising water. He awoke once the water reached his mattress. He then jumped out of his window, swam as best he could, grabbing onto branches, until he found shallow enough water in which to stand. The police found him collapsed under a bridge and brought him to the shelter.

Todd’s home is gone. The machine shop where he worked was flooded. He has nothing left, but his truck note. Todd’s story was told to me by a friend and former Congressman from Texas who volunteered to go down to Houston. He helped Todd get a new pair of clothes. Todd said to him, “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

Todd’s story is just one of thousands. But, in the midst of the suffering in Houston and in Florida, it offers a window into the soul of our country, and the unique realities and narrative that many other nations lack.   

First, we have governing infrastructure. Witness the sound planning and rapid government response to both evacuation and meeting immediate needs. Secondly, we have the binding elements of community; the impulse of neighbors to actually do something. Witness the johnboats, the “Cajun Navy,” patrolling up and down the streets in their own rescue operations. Third, we have remarkable charitable organizations, helping in ways that the government cannot.  As one rescue volunteer said, “I’ve met more of my neighbors in the last 24 hours than I’ve met in the last 20 years.”

As always in times of natural disasters and other emergencies, here and abroad, the U.S. federal government plays a traditional and critical role in knitting communities back together, so citizens can remain in the places where they built their lives over generations. The House has passed bipartisan legislation to create a federal disaster relief fund to help Hurricane Harvey disaster victims rebuild their homes and lives. A similar bill to help Irma victims is soon to follow.

Usually, it is America using our hard-earned resources to help others through their natural disasters. However, this time, the rest of the world took notice of us, inspired by how we Americans come together in moments of peril. The Governor of Texas said he had received multiple calls from leaders of other countries offering to help.  

Almost 60% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover a $500 unplanned expense. This is a hard statistic. There is great vulnerability in our country. However, it helps to know that we do have operable systems of government, charitable institutions, and, most important, this spirit of compassion. The idea that persons matter, that we do live in an ecosystem, that we are all interdependent. And the idea that sometimes a tragedy can pull the best out of all of us.