It happened just two months into my first year as mayor of Wilmington.
An EF3 tornado struck 55 miles south of Wilmington and destroyed 80 percent of the small, riverside village of Moscow, Ohio. Three people died. The community was devastated. They needed all the help they could get. Their desperate call for help went out to communities throughout southwest Ohio.
Our street superintendent, Denny Gherman, was waiting in my office the next morning. Denny had been contacted by the disaster management personnel of Clermont County. They needed all the help they could find.
Denny wanted permission to respond. I asked him what they needed and he told me, “They need everything we can send.”
We talked for a few minutes. I told Denny that the people in Moscow, Ohio were our neighbors: “Send them all the men and equipment we possibly can.”
I am very proud of the clean-up and recovery assistance that Denny and our Wilmington crew provided during their days of working in Moscow.
That’s what neighbors do. They don’t question. They don’t criticize. They don’t double-guess. They just roll up their sleeves, pitch in and do whatever they can to make a horrible situation better
When I was mayor of Wilmington, my greatest fear was that a disaster — a tornado, a blizzard, mass casualty event or major fire — would hit this city. I feared a situation where our police, fire, EMS and maintenance personnel would be overwhelmed; incapable of managing the local disaster.
The people who work for this community can handle just about anything, but in that type of major disaster situation, we would have to depend on help from other communities, as well as the state or federal government, to survive and recover from such a major disastrous event.
In case of such a disaster, we would be blessed in Wilmington to have great support from surrounding communities. If something on such an unimaginable scale happened to us, people would pour into our city to help with personnel, equipment, food and water and supplies.
That’s what happened when the tornado hit Xenia in 1974. That’s what happened in 2012 when Moscow, Ohio was devastated. Neighbors helped neighbors.
However, as a former mayor, it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine a disaster where, days and weeks later, our citizens would be at risk of dying of thirst or starvation.
Without clean water to drink, a person could start dying within just three or four days. Without food, a person starts dying within a week or two.
That is the situation that now faces Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Many of her citizens — people she is responsible to protect — have not had clean water or adequate food since the double-hit, back-to-back disasters of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico is smaller than the state of Connecticut. It is only about 110 miles in length and 40 miles wide. Both of the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico were many, many times larger than the entire island.
No part of the island was unscathed by the storm surge and killer winds of Irma and Maria. Their closest neighbors, people who can provide life-saving assistance, are the people of the United States.
The island is a territory of the United States of America. The residents of the island are American citizens. Just like the residents of Texas, New Orleans and Florida, they are Americans. They are our neighbors.
We have a responsibility to provide them with all the help they need. We have a responsibility to provide them with disaster relief; water, food and shelter.
Mayor Cruz is begging for help. She was complimentary and appreciative of the help that initially arrived, but is now frustrated that the disaster response San Juan has received hasn’t been enough.
She told news reporters, “”I know the good heart of the American people and I know that when a mayday sound goes off, they come to the rescue.”
But, she has criticized the federal response as inefficient. Of course she has — weeks after the hurricanes hit, many of her citizens are still struggling. Some are dying
If Wilmington had a major disaster and after three weeks the citizens of this community were still not receiving the food, water and shelter they needed, I would be critical of the disaster response. I would be angry and frustrated.
I am very disappointed in President Trump’s response. As soon as Mayor Cruz uttered her frustration with the delays in receiving federal disaster aid, our president lashed out directly at her, tweeting, “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.” He added: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Doesn’t he get it? Their community is basically gone. Their resources were destroyed by Irma and Maria. They have been working for weeks to help themselves. They have exhausted their resources. They need food, water and power; not nasty, foolish Tweets and criticism.
Whether it was Katrina, Harvey, Irma or Maria, the victims of a disaster never feel like the response is enough. Our response should be to keep assistance constantly moving to those who need it. For the American president to use the occasion to lash out, or to Tweet-out, at the political leaders that are begging for help is horrible.
We need to be neighbors helping neighbors, not neighbors yelling at each other. It’s embarrassing.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.