“Damage from Irene is severe in many areas of upstate New York...” Annoyed, I flipped off the radio and picked up a newspaper. Irene this, Irene that! Why did I have to share a name with Hurricane Irene? To my increasing frustration, every page I turned had bold headlines screaming details of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. I slammed the paper on the coffee table. Why was everyone still talking about a hurricane that had happened three days ago? Well, too bad for New York. I was glad to be in Pennsylvania for the summer.
A week later, however, I traveled to New York, to start back in school. Thankfully, most of the talk about Hurricane Irene had died down. But then our school principal called all the sophomores together for an assembly. He wanted to make an announcement.
“You all know” he began, “how much damage Hurricane Irene did in our local area.” I immediately reacted, but my exasperated sigh was stopped abruptly as he continued. “The entire tenth grade class will be able to participate in some flood relief work on Friday, September 16...”
I didn’t know what to think, but Friday came soon enough. I got myself ready, together with my crew of six fellow students and two staff members. We headed north an hour, to the house of Andrew, a single man in his thirties. The boys in our crew began by hauling waterlogged, muddy furniture out of the house. Andrew led us girls up to his kitchen. The smells of sewer, mud, floodwater and dirty, wet clothes all swirled together into one terrible stench that slammed us in the face. Taking a deep breath, I headed in. We were supposed to get rid of everything except any unbroken chinaware. With that, Andrew left us to it.
I didn’t quite know where to begin, but within minutes heavy mud caked my boots. Digging through the twelve inches of filth in the sink, I managed to extract a metal spatula. I then proceeded to scrape the two inches of mud off the marble counters into buckets, which I then I hauled to the growing pile of debris and sludge outside.
Without electricity or running water, any real cleaning was impossible. Grabbing a mud-blackened rag from the floor, I swished over the counter, then gathered all the unbroken dishes together and set them on the counter. Next I tackled the cupboards. The force of the flooding caused by the hurricane was unreal. Shelves inside the cupboard had been wedged in at a slant, splintering most of the chinaware at the bottom. The floodwaters had even forced through the sealed door of the fridge. Everything was caked with mud—the microwave, the oven, everything!
By the end of the day, even without hot, soapy water, all our scraping felt like we had won a victory.
Wet, filthy and exhausted, I staggered outside. Looking around, I noticed Andrew’s pick-up which had been completely submerged and ruined by the floodwaters. Destruction was everywhere. The little kitchen we worked so hard to put back in order was but a tiny fraction of all that was damaged and destroyed.
As we drove home, back to our warm homes and hot showers, I closed my eyes, thinking over the day. I was overcome by the real loss of what my distant neighbors had suffered, and all of a sudden my petty frustrations about my name vanished. Now I felt proud to share a name with a hurricane that, although causing terrible damage and heartache for thousands, had taught me a lesson about real life and about what really matters: people in need. Thank you, Hurricane Irene, for what you did for me.