The assembly line of nature's fury we see each year in late summer is cranked up again, the sun-warmed waters of the Atlantic Ocean pushing violent tropical storms toward the United States one after another.
First came Gustav early last week, a strong hurricane that slammed straight into the Louisiana coast that just three years before was annihilated by Katrina, the mother of killer storms. Thankfully, through better preparation by all levels of government, the wisdom of 1.9 million residents to flee and the mercy of God, the Gulf Coast was spared the same devastation and loss of life it suffered in 2005.
Then came Hanna, which came ashore in the Carolinas and is working its way up the East Coast. Behind that storm is Ike, a powerful hurricane bearing down on the Caribbean and Florida. And after that comes a never-ending alphabet soup of named storms crossing the tropical seas toward populated areas.
After a couple of relatively quiet hurricane seasons, we are back on the rollercoaster. And it's not just the folks who live in Florida, the Gulf or the Eastern Seaboard who are in harm's way, as we've seen before.
Several hundred miles of Georgia clay lies between our area and a hurricane's landfall, but a big storm still can pack a wallop when it reaches our part of the state. You don't have to tell that to the folks who felt the sting of Tropical Storm Fay, a relatively mild storm that nonetheless left a wake of tornado damage in Hall and Jackson counties in late August.
Wherever we live, we're all in this together, as seen in the aftermath of Katrina and again with Gustav. Even those who are safely distant from the storms' dangers know that our nation's security and economy can be brutalized by such disasters.
We saw it in 2005 when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hampered gasoline supplies, leaving some motorists lined up at pumps in anticipation of shortages. Katrina cost our nation billions in private and public funds, yet all that still hasn't been enough to fully rebuild New Orleans and other areas. And now more storms threaten to tear down what many have worked so hard to reconstruct.
That's why the kind of response we saw last week when Gustav threatened the same Gulf region led to a national awareness beyond what had been seen before. News networks dropped everything to monitor the storm's route and the evacuation. Government officials put every other priority on hold to put the right emergency response agencies in place ahead of time rather than wait until the last minute.
The storm even led the Republican Party to scale back its political convention on the first night, though it was held hundreds of miles away in Minnesota.
Even before the storm hit, communities across the Southeast again opened up their arms to the storm's refugees as they did three years ago.
After Katrina scattered the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi to the four winds, Georgia towns were quick to take in those in need of a haven. Dozens of families made their way to our area, some staying for awhile, others for much longer.
New students from the bayou filled our schools, while area private schools took in many at no charge. As many as 11,000 refugee students filled classrooms across Georgia, 59 of them in Gainesville and 39 elsewhere in Hall County.
Families have opened their homes to relatives, friends and sometimes strangers in need of a place to stay. Last week, Joe Amerling, a Gainesville police sergeant, took in the family of a fellow law officer from Louisiana he had come to know while investigating the slaying of two Gainesville men in that state. Local relief agencies were quick to offer help and collect donations for those in need.
The danger posted by Gustav and the storms to follow are a stark reminder in an election year that there are many things more important than our political and social differences. When we come together as human beings to help one another, we are America at its best. We always unite in a crisis, be it a man-made horror such as war or terrorist attacks and when the whims of nature render us small and vulnerable.
Some 1,600 people were killed by Katrina, and thousands more still have yet to get their lives back together. The impact of Gustav was much less tragic, but it still left many families in that area without homes, jobs or anywhere to go.
We should continue to help those devastated by these and all of the storms to follow. Let's do what we can to provide assistance now and continue to make our communities and ourselves available to those who seek shelter from the wrath of future hurricanes.