Today some of the first evacuees of one of the worst flood disasters in recent history returned to their homes — or at least to what was left of them. It’s also the first of the month, which means whether or not the homes those people returned to were inhabitable by the standards of you and me and every other average Joe, their rent is still due. Legally, there are very few circumstances, especially in hard-hit Houston, that would allow a tenant to get out of paying his or her rent. And to spare you a bunch of boring legal mumbo jumbo, suffice it to say most residents — both those headed back to their damaged houses and those still stuck in shelters tonight — are obligated to sign and send in that check.
Let that sink in and consider how it would make you feel.
Working in news, I see a lot of yucky stuff. In the beginning, I let everything get to me. Everything. I spent the first year of my career faking countless bathroom breaks while producing my newscasts just so I could hide in a toilet stall to cry. Car accidents and court hearings, homicides and house fires, human trafficking cases in my own small city, suicide blasts on the other side of the world — I carried the weight of everyone’s heartache on my own two shoulders. Over time, I somehow managed to develop a sort of numbness to the yucky stuff. I had to. Or else I’d have never left the toilet stall.
When Harvey first made landfall, my mom was in town and wanted to watch the news as it unfolded. It was a Friday night and I’d just gotten home from work, which meant doing so was the very last thing on my agenda. But we did. We watched live coverage throughout the weekend as Harvey wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast. We watched as it tore through parts of Texas like a fire hose versus a house of cards, watched as neighborhood streets transformed into raging rivers, and as the death toll climbed from what some state and federal officials described as an “impressive,” “only” 2 people to nearly 40. We watched as one reporter went rogue during his live shot (a producer’s worst nightmare) to help save a woman trapped in the floodwaters. That actually ended up making for great T.V., which many people on social media were quick assume was the only reason he did it.
At some point before I returned to work on Monday, it really resonated with me that each of the devastating images I’d seen and each of the heartbreaking stories I’d heard belonged to real life human beings. The ones I used to take fake bathroom breaks to cry for.
When I arrived to our editorial meeting Monday morning and learned we’d be devoting the majority of our resources to not only sharing the stories of Harvey’s victims but hosting a telethon for their benefit as well, I became overwhelmed with a sense of duty and pride. I felt like I did back in J school, when I was naive enough to believe I was capable of changing the world and saving the people. Back before I had to train myself not to cry over their every heartache.
It’s Friday now and we just closed the phone lines for our telethon, capping off at $234,487 raised. Much of that came from individual contributions by members of the Las Vegas community. A couple stories from callers that stuck out most: a woman who had $3 left in her checking account but wanted to give because she said they seemed less fortunate, another woman who was getting ready to purchase a $500 smartphone before seeing our telethon and deciding the people of Houston were “more important,” a man who called to donate $100 but asked we please wait until the end of the month when his social security check cleared. Those who seemingly had the least to give were among those most eager to donate whatever they could. Towards the end of the telethon a few local companies came forward, offering to match $5,000, even $10,000 in contributions from viewers. Las Vegans proved, as they have time and time again, that to them it’s important to help their fellow Americans during times of need. It felt nice to play a very small role in helping them do that this week.
Here’s a little spot my video editor and I put together for our 5 p.m. newscast tonight, before we even reached $200k: