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Department & Division News

The Long Road Home

(This article first appeared in the November-December 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

By Human Relations Director Sue Carney

For many survivors of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria the road home will not be easy. Torrential rains, powerful wind gusts of up to 175 mph and storm surges reaching 12.5 feet caused widespread flooding and destruction throughout much of the south and the Caribbean – impacting millions, including more than 100,000 postal employees and an untold number of retirees.

The hurricanes claimed at least 257 lives. Hurricane Harvey significantly damaged over 185,000 homes; 40,000 homes were completely destroyed and more than 1 million vehicles were totaled as the storm dumped nearly 52 inches of punishing rain on south Texas and Louisiana over six merciless days – that’s 27 trillion gallons of water – enough to meet New York City’s water needs for the next five decades. Harvey is the second costliest storm in U.S. history, falling just short of Katrina.

Irma ravaged the Keys. The hurricane smashed houses and shattered lives across Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. What Irma didn’t destroy, Hurricane Maria aimed to finish. Maria left total destruction in her wake. Crippling Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the storm swallowed and splintered homes and infrastructures with flash-floods and ripping winds – leaving residents without housing and in short supply of food, water, gasoline, medicine and other necessities for the long haul.

Each of these catastrophic storms indiscriminately jolted people from their ordinary lives. With the reality of global warming and climate change – regardless of where we live – any one of us could easily find ourselves in their shoes. In the last 10 years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared 665 major disasters – no state or U.S. territory has been exempt. Each has suffered a multitude of di- sasters in the last decade. Who will you turn to when disaster strikes?

We Can All Help

Hurricane survivors who suffered the greatest loss will need our help. Based on our experience with Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, it can take months, even years before they will be able to return home. Just 12 percent of our country’s homeowners carry flood insurance. Many can’t afford it and significantly more aren’t required to carry it because they do not live in a flood zone. So the overwhelming majority of survivors will be dependent on private charity and government aid, which is limited. FEMA grants are capped at $33,300. Most will see significantly less. Many more won’t qualify. Most did not even receive 30 days of Transitional Shelter Assistance from FEMA.

Despite the daunting costs of recovery, each of us has the ability to do our small part, which together will make a big difference in the lives of many. Giving as little as $5 per pay period, less than a Quarter Pounder and fries, to the Postal Employees Relief Fund (PERF) through payroll or annuity deduction during the Combined Federal Campaign can help fellow coworkers and retirees re-establish their homes and replace othernecessities lost to these catastrophic storms, and other devastating disasters.

Imagine losing your home and everything you worked for; every necessity and comfort, every precious keepsake that represents your life destroyed. Imagine what it would take to re-establish your home and replace your losses, living paycheck to paycheck while still having to pay a mortgage and property taxes for a home that is destroyed. Rainy day savings won’t be enough to recover from this type of destruction. Wouldn’t you want someone to be there for you? Please consider giving what you can.

Postal employees and retirees suffering losses to their primary residence from a natural disaster or home fire, must apply to PERF within six months of the event to be eligible for assistance. Visit postalrelief.com or contact the Human Relations Department to learn more.