(Subtitle: With Distant Devastation Much Larger)
Blacksburg's High School's collapsed gym roof and its subsequent disruption is but a small sampling of the chaos the citizens of NOLA, Haiti, and Chile have lived. And if this is any indication of the power of just one building's collapse, then it is hard to comprehend what is in store for Haiti and Chile (and is still in store for NOLA). Here is what the microcosm looks like.
It happened on a Saturday earlier this month, shortly after the girls basketball team had practiced. That there were no injuries or deaths owes in great measure to the action by those present as cracks appeared suddenly in the gym wall. The coach sent the girls outside the building.
The news reports told the story of the gym roof collapse. They told how no one was injured, much less killed. And they told how, after a week off, Blacksburg high school students were back at school--sharing another school in the afternoon and evening. You see, the school will probably be inhabitable on into the future. No one knows yet if the adjacent main school building, which shared support beams, and used the very same structural steel, will ever be structurally sound enough to house students and teachers again. This is a town with one high school, one middle school and three elementary schools. The options are not great. But it must be said that at least school children do not have to go to school in the open air.
And so, Middle Schoolers now head to school at the crack of dawn, at this time of year even before. They still struggle getting up so early. They leave school earlier now too. Their after-school care is disrupted, in some cases lost. Their activities and schedules are significantly changed. All this is because high school students now share their school. Imagine the change for a sixth grader! Children just getting used to middle school suddenly are "invaded" by high schoolers. Middle schoolers, all 900 of them, prepare to leave just as 1200 high schoolers arrive to take over what was once their school.
|High school students begin school at 2:00 PM. They get out of school after 7:15 PM. They still have homework to do. And few probably think that their mornings will be filled with homework. High schoolers have as tough a time, maybe tougher with the change. At least their biological inclination to sleep in is nurtured. Otherwise, it's all disruption. Every single thing they do, including even their applications to colleges in some cases, have been disrupted. Those who applied early at least get that break. Sports teams have been parceled out all over the area. Track works out at the Weight Club. (Less time for adults to stay healthy). Other teams work out at Virginia Tech, the Middle School and elsewhere.
Families' lives are upended. Schedules they grew accustomed to or painstakingly worked out with other family members, babysitters, sports activities, music lessons, and more --all are in disarray.
And then there are the teachers, many with children, who are now on schedules not matching their own family's. HS teachers finish after 7 PM. They get home around 8 or even 9 PM. And then there are the class preps, the grading, and more. Forget it if they have a family to take care of. The hard part has only begun for the teachers. If they tuck in their children on time, they are lucky. In some cases, neighbors and friends will be called upon to tuck their children in now. Fortunately, there is a community recruitment to assist the teachers. But how many will burn out? How many can manage this new reality in balance with their families? Already under seige by NCLB, the anti-education crowd, right-wing academic ideologues, and starve-the-beasters, they keep the faith with their students, work hard, and try to inspire.
Roads into and out of the area where I live now transport departing middle schoolers and arriving high schoolers along with Tech students going to class, thousands and thousands of extra passengers on roads never intended for this much traffic.
The damaged high school is located across town on the opposite side and usually is not a traffic issue. More than 5,000 residents, who live in the Hethwood and and those living in the Prices Fork community just outside the town limits, most of whom are associated with Virginia Tech (either students of employees), also take this road. Traffic: It's a small thing, to be sure, but will likely lead to more accidents.
No one has talked about how much the rebuild will cost, or if the cash-strapped county can even handle losses beyond what is covered. We are in perennial tax cut mode in Virginia. How to deal?
But this blog is not about whining about small things. After all, no one was killed. No one lost a home. No one lost everything her or she had. Rather this blog is written out of respect for the major changes in the lives of human beings, those who go to school, those who make school possible, and the community in which they live. Most affected in Blacksburg have accepted the changes positively. Members of the community are moving to assist those needing help. But I think it aids understanding if we project out the impact of this building's loss to the landscape of natural disaster. Now imagine if this change is multiplied for every community building lost in places such as Haiti and Chile. Imagine how difficult the rebuilding process becomes and will be for so many!
When the news of Haiti's plight began filtering across computer networks and broadcast media, we heard about the chaos. Some channels showed over and over the same isolated videos of young males grabbing water and another scene of "looting." And media talking heads and "reporters" prattled their greatly exaggerated stories about the "looting," about which I have written previously. We know that this problem was not the predominate story. But we only know that from alternative media and a few network folks who finally told the truth, that looting was relatively rare in the nation of millions suddenly dispossessed of their earthly goods.
Something big got lost. What got lost was how communities organized among themselves. What got lost was the sharing. Imagine people who had lost everything, even the roof over their heads, responding bravely, altruistically. That is what happened.
Neighborhood organizers make sure people had food and water at least the bare essentials, even if that meant someone had to give up his or hers. People willingly and freely handed their small resources to share. Communities organized for various tasks they needed, such as keeping the women and children safe at night.
In Leogane, at the epicenter, a full week after the earthquake, they had heard from no one. Only Democracy Now's Amy Goodman had even ventured forth to visit them. (Goodman documented with video how there was no problem getting to Leogane. Somehow help never arrived because of excess worries about "security." Goodman found it very safe.) And so, without help from outside, they carried on. But no matter how the communities of Haiti try to organize, their task is, to use a cliche which is appropriate in this case, Herculean.
I wait to hear the real stories from places like Leogane from the extant and so-called MSM. I wait to hear the stories about how a brave people built rudimentary communities to help each other. This was the story of Haiti. During profound disruption, the equivalent of thousands and thousands of collapses like the one in Blacksburg, people reorganized how they live their life and carried on with the barest of essentials. School children both young and older now go to school outdoors, if they are able to go at all. When they go, they go with mostly empty tummies. With no end in sight, the people of Haiti carry on.
And now many of the people of Chile join them. Though for buildings built since the 1920s, architectural standards were current for the period in which they were built, the damage is massive. Impassible roads, tumbled overpasses, collapsed bridges, and building after building now spelling massive disruption of a people.
I lived for many years in earthquake country (So California). When you live there, you don't think about it all the time. We are told this is the case in Chile. Indeed, I think about it more as a visitor and now long-time resident of a distant state. I was on a business trip to Washington state in the 1990s when I learned of an earthquake in the wee hours--the Northridge quake. Everywhere I went that day TVs were tuned into the earthquake. And it was a far less severe one than either Haiti's or Chile's. The residents of Washington state, Oregon and Wyoming know all too well that a cataclysmic earth quake could strike. Washington and Oregon are part of the Pacific ring of fire. Wyoming contains some of the most seismically active land on earth, typified by the gurgling of Yellowstone.
And I wonder, should an earthquake devastate, as it one day surely will, if our country will unify, rally round to help our neighbors as surely as we have for the people of Haiti, or Sri Lanka. Will we wrap protective arms around states within our borders, supply them with food and shelter, and protect them, even as they struggle to feed and protect themselves? Will we remember that they, like the people of Haiti are us? Will the people who secretly wish Calif will one day "drop into the sea" (and there are such people--I have heard such comments), get a grip? Will we set aside regional biases? Must it happen to us personally to awaken us? Or will we know what to do in any case? Will we have the strength to stand up to the predators who will try to capitalize on any opportunity to profit over tragedy? And will we tell the truth, the message of communities doing their best to survive, unselfishly offering food and blankets to others? More to the point, will we remember Haiti, Chile, Sri Lanka, Pakistan (it will be years before homes lost to their earthquake will be rebuilt--how often to we remember?). Will we remember NOLA. Will we do something? Will we?