It seems like only yesterday our nation was mobilized to aid flood victims in New Orleans in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Residents from Columbia County were engaged in the effort. Working through the Northwest Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross, some volunteers managed local donation efforts, helping ensure resources were channeled to those who needed it most during that trying time.
Yet again, images splayed across media channels drive home the utter devastation caused by a superstorm that gathered immense energy in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico prior to making landfall. This time the name is Harvey, the target southern Texas. Instead of levee breaches, the areas surrounding Houston were inundated with more than 50 inches of rainfall from the storm, a new national record. For context, just consider our notoriously wet Portland metropolitan area receives on average around 40 inches of rainfall annually. It is just hard to fathom.
It's heartening that among the tales of devastation and woe are accounts of people rallying to the aid of Harvey's victims. One local story — and we're sure there will be more in the days and weeks to come, as the consequences from Harvey are expected to span years — reported by Nicole Thill this week is focused on Eric Heassler of St. Helens. Heassler is answering the call put out by several Texas officials with the hope of summoning boat owners and their watercrafts to the Houston area to help with rescue and recovery efforts.
Calls for such aid were still going out as of Wednesday, Aug. 30, as Heassler was departing to join others in his so-called "Cascadian Navy." By Thursday morning, we received a report he had made it to Utah and was on his way. Godspeed.
We heard additional murmurs of Columbia County residents answering the summons for help. The Columbia Humane Society, as reported on page A9, is set to accept pets, sometimes the overlooked victims during times of mass devastation, that have been displaced by the storm. The first batch of animals is expected to arrive by today, Friday, Sept. 1.
Disheartening, however, are surfacing reports of unscrupulous players seeking to turn a fraudulent profit on the backs of Harvey's thousands of victims. In addition to fake news stories about the conditions in Houston, phony charities and other scams are popping up nationally. Oregon State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Wednesday issued a scam alert warning against bunk charities trying to cash in on Harvey, as other attorneys general across the nation have done. The St. Helens Police Department posted a Hurricane Harvey scam warning on its Facebook page, including tips about how to avoid being scammed.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud, a subset of the U.S. Justice Department established following Hurricane Katrina and the many exploitative scams it spawned, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, released information about how to avoid fraudulent charitable contribution schemes. There are 10 fraud avoidance tips the NCDF offers, including not responding to unsolicited emails, being skeptical of people presenting themselves as members of a charitable organization via email or social media, being leery of charities with copy-cat names (i.e. names similar to reputable charities but slightly modified), and more. For a full list, we strongly suggest visiting the NCDF website at www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes.
Though Heassler and others are intent on having a physical presence in Texas, there are many other ways you can help without packing up your gear and hitting the road. Not only can you aid the still-unfolding disaster in the Lone Star State, but with a little effort you can also make a big difference at home and for the sake of future generations. Here's how:
Open your wallet
¦ United Way of Greater Houston: https://www.unitedwayhouston.org/flood/flood-donation
¦ Galveston County Food Bank: http://www.galvestoncountyfoodbank.org/
¦ Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund: https://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/
Text the Red Cross
The American Red Cross lets you donate $10 to hurricane relief simply by texting 90999.
Call your representative in Congress
Touring the Texas floodwaters last week, President Trump praised his administration's response to the historic storm. What he didn't mention was the proposal by his congressional allies to cut $876 million dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (while spending nearly twice that, $1.6 billion, on the president's Mexican border wall). A flood of phone calls to congressional offices could turn the tide on this potentially deadly idea.
While Texas is flooding, many Oregonians are dealing with forest fires that threaten thousands of homes. Again, the best contribution you can make is cash, and donations to the local chapter of the American Red Cross ensure your money will get to those who need it most: http://www.redcross.org/local/oregon/ways-to-donate/wildfires
Get serious about climate change
The floods in Texas were caused by historic rainfalls. The fires in Oregon are fueled by record droughts. Those who deny our climate is changing are playing with fire — and water. In addition to targeting FEMA, the proposed federal budget slashes money from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These agencies, which forecast storms and help coastal residents prepare for disaster, also employ scientists who continue to point out the truth: Our climate is changing. Readers should demand their representatives in Congress fight to restore this funding, which saves not only lives, but also money.
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