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Commentary: Giving thanks and giving back

After hurricane season, the journey back has just begun

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After Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, we had another reason to be thankful last week: The nerve-wracking and destructive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season — 10 named hurricanes in 10 weeks, which may end up being costlier than the 2005 season that brought us Hurricane Katrina — finally came to an end, and New Orleans was spared for another year. Whew!

  Elsewhere, Hurricane Harvey dropped record amounts of rain over Houston and east Texas, flooding thousands of homes. Hurricane Irma was catastrophic for many in the Caribbean, though its impact on Florida was less than anticipated. Then there was Hurricane Maria, one for the record books. It destroyed the entire electrical grid on Puerto Rico, and the island still is struggling through the first months of recovery.

  New Orleans was nervous about October's Hurricane Nate, which was headed our way but ultimately brought little more than a few rain bands (and a controversial curfew). Our neighbors in Biloxi, Mississippi were not so lucky and bore the brunt of a storm surge.

  Despite the billions spent on recovery since Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failures, a midsummer rain event made it clear that New Orleans wasn't ready for a strong tropical storm, much less a "wet" storm like Harvey. During the Aug. 5 floods, New Orleanians all over town agreed the drainage system did not perform as advertised despite reassurances from the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) that everything was operating as expected. The people, not the board, were right. A City Council meeting triggered firings at the S&WB, and an excellent investigative series, "Down the Drain," by WWL-TV (Gambit's television partner) revealed an agency mired in dysfunction.

  It's hard to be thankful for something like the Aug. 5 flood, particularly if your home, business or automobile took on water, but that deluge served as a call to action for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the New Orleans City Council, the S&WB and the city's Department of Public Works. Better to uncover the problems now rather than during a major hurricane.

  Giving thanks also means giving back, of course. Last week, the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, along with members of the New Orleans Fire Department, traveled to Puerto Rico for a two-week disaster relief effort. The agencies had assisted in recovery efforts after Harvey and Irma as well. While we all can't be that hands-on, the holidays are a fine time to give back in other ways.

  The Second Harvest Food Bank of south Louisiana contributed mightily to disaster response efforts this year, working with the Houston Food Bank and delivering nonperishables and cleaning supplies to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Second Harvest deserves your support year-round, and the holidays are the perfect time to show the organization some love. The United Way of Southeast Louisiana's Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund also remains active; those of us who lived through the long post-Katrina recovery know that though the spotlight may have left Houston, the journey back has just begun. If you want to show your thankfulness this holiday season, we recommend both these fine organizations.

  Most of all, we wish our readers and advertisers a very happy holiday season — and we hope the 2018 hurricane season brings grief to no one.


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