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Community Development Data Viz - September 2017

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Community in Disaster

Disasters have a unique way of bringing people together. I first got to experience this as a graduate student studying the concept of "gotong royong" in Indonesia. This "spirit of community helping" was in full swing in the area I was researching with, the villages in and around Jogykarta, while they were rebuiling after an earthquake that flattened homes and killed over 10,000 people in 2006. Hurricane Irma was not nearly as devastating, but it was the first time that I was the one responsible for taking care of my family and home in the face of disaster.

I ran. I ran because I could. I was lucky. I have a wonderful network of friends across the country that helped me and my family get out of the narrow galley of Florida and into safety without being stranded on the side of a highway without a place to stay or gas to get there. I was also able to help my friend and her family, which helped eased my concience for running when I knew others could not. This is not quite community, but priviliege and social capital in action to say the least.

We returned to a minimally damaged home and a city that looked like all the trees exploded. We were all lucky in Southwest Florida that the eye came in and the strength was weakened when it got to us. Storm surge was small and flooding was minimal in most areas, although places that were hard hit in heavy rains a few weeks earlier were again affected - mostly modestly priced areas that happen to be in flood plains (or purposfully, depending on how much control you think engineers have of watershed and drainage control in high-end gated golf communities). 

Then we took care of our house. Folks cleaned out the rotting food from the refrigerators (there had not been power for several days and hundreds of thousands across the state would go without for more than a week). We piled branches and debris in front of our house waiting for cleaning crews to take it away (and weigh it for FEMA). We sweltered in our hot homes, relieved the storm had passed, but worried about what to do next. 

During the aftermath, a beautiful thing happened - community came. Neighbors were outside their homes lending assistance in clearing trees and debris, offering cold drinks if they still had power, and equipment if they had it. Kids were off school (many buildings were damaged, many were without power, and others still had displaced people sheltering there) and many businesses were closed, so people pitched in to help. They served food at shelters or public places. They helped nonprofits clean up their grounds and make repairs. They searched by boat for people and animals stranded in high flood waters. When night came, neighbors gathered together to chat, sing, drink beer, and scheme on how to get power from the one working street lamp. 

I'm eternally grateful that Irma did not physically destroy my community beyond repair. I am also grateful to have witnessed this very special sense of community develop from this event. I'm hoping it's something we can continue to build. 

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