I spent last weekend in Austin. We own some property near Bastrop where all the wildfires have been making the news. A small portion of our property was burned, but nothing to complain about. A few small trees will not make it but the 100-year-old trees (and older) were largely untouched.
What I gained from this trip was an affirmation that people can be very decent in a time of tragedy. Everywhere we saw tents set up with supplies for people who’d lost everything. We saw insurance agency SUVs and roadside trailers along most major roads. The power company was working to restore power along every road and piles of charred trees had been cut up for removal by unseen people. An all out effort to restore lives was fully underway and clearly visible among the piles of ashes with a lone brick chimney which remained of modest and affluent homes.
The most compelling stories came, however, from my sister who lives in Bastrop and works at the local Walmart. Here are a few samples of what she told us:
Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
I worked at Walmart on Tuesday from 7 am until 4 pm. The first wave of people I helped were firefighters who had come in from across Texas to help. They were buying water and Gatorade. The next wave of customers were people who had obviously lost their homes and were buying clothing and toiletries. Later in the day, people come through who were buying stuff to give to the various relief efforts around town.
Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Another interesting day at Walmart. I went in at 2:30 pm. It was hazy and everything smelt of smoke. When I got to work, they’d turned off the AC because it was bringing in more smoke. Walmart 1042 has pulled in associates from the surrounding cities. So many of our associates have had to “call in” due of the crisis.
It seemed like every other family that came through my line had either lost their home to the fire or had been evacuated and didn’t know if they had a home to go back to. The store manager came through my line and bought a bunch of snacks to donate to the firefighters. The owner of a popular local restaurant told me that he closed his restaurant yesterday and spent the day cooking chili for the rescue workers. He stayed at it until the local grocer showed up with a portable kitchen and started feeding the workers.
A family came through yesterday and bought a ton of water and groceries with food stamps. I thought it was for their own big family, but they were going to donate it all to those in need.
Friday, Sept. 9, 2011
As of today, most people know if they have a home to go back to or not. Until today, many evacuees have just had to wait and wonder. Two of my friends have posted pictures of their burned out homes; nothing left but rubble. Others have posted pix of their home miraculously spared from the turmoil that surrounded them.
I saw a shift in what customers were buying. They were buying cleaning supplies. Some told me that they have returned to a home that was intact, but smelly due to 5 days of rotting food (no electricity). Others told me that they were trying to clean up old campers to stay in.
I recognized one family that came through my line. I smiled and mentioned that I had seen them about this time last night. They said that was because they were in my back yard. At my puzzled expression they explained that they were the family that had set up a tent in our parking lot. Travel trailers are not an unusual sight on any given evening at Walmart, but I noticed the tent last night.
Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011
The “tent” family came through my line again tonight and they said that this was their last night to stay in our parking lot. They found a hotel room in a nearby town. They were happy with their stay in the Walmart parking lot. Food and a clean bathroom were only a short walk away and they didn’t have to stay in a shelter. They said they didn’t want to hear everybody’s stories. It made me wonder if they had personal experience with living in a shelter before.
Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
Several weeks have passed since the fire started in Bastrop. People are literally sifting through the ashes that were once their homes. Armed with wood and screen shifting boxes, they look for that one treasure that may have made it through the inferno. Many homes are nothing but ash and a chimney. I have been told time and time again about how one house would lie untouched next to a completely devastated home. I saw that first hand today as I took my parents and brothers on a tour of the area.
Countless people have come through my line at Walmart and told me that they lost everything. But no one seems bitter, as one man put it “I can’t feel victimized because it happen to so many people” For the most part people are philosophical. This “perfect storm” hit rich and poor alike. The nicest of homes and most humble shacks were taken.
Over the weeks I have seen fire fighters from all over the U. S. from Alaska to the Navajo Nation. Things have calmed down now. I don’t see as many firefighters, but signs of cleaning and rebuilding; massive tree cutting equipment and linemen working to restore electricity and phone service the stricken areas.
One of my “take-aways” from this experience is that one quote:
They lost everything, but no one seems bitter. As one man put it “I can’t feel victimized because it happen to so many people.” For the most part people are philosophical. This “perfect storm” hit rich and poor alike.
I saw people sifting through ashes of what was once the home base of their life. I saw dozens of pickup trucks lined up to sell scrap metal which days earlier had been their washer/dryer, refrigerator and patio furniture. I saw flatbed trucks with the burned out hulls of collector cars from the 50s and 60s. I saw 5000 square feet of ash, with two chimneys, a swimming pool and a fountain. As we drove away, there was little we could say. We’d seen heavy hearted people looking for anything among the ruins that would bring a piece of their past back into their lives.
They are not victims and they are not giving up. They are rebuilding. These people have experienced a piece of Texas history. As is the case with so many historical events (The Civil War, The Kennedy Assassination, The Dot Com Crash), it is not pleasant. The Great Recession is no different. As we appear to be on the brink of a second dip back into recession, those of us who are out of work are going to be joined by a whole new wave of people looking for work. Don’t feel like a victim. This is happening to a lot of people. Now is the time to prepare yourself. Be forewarned and forearmed. Size up the situation and determine how you are going to deal with it.
Good luck and Godspeed.
Business Development Director