Friday, October 03, 2008

Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Ike Survivors Keep Finding New Ways

The Houston Chronicle today had several uplifting, inspiring stories of Hurricane Ike survivors who have steadfastly refused to let destruction, loss and death have the last word.

Perhaps the best is entitled A loner in life is looked after in death. It picks up the story of rescue worker Bob Emery, 54, of Big Pine Key, FL, who died last Saturday night in Houston while trying to rescue three dogs huddling against the cement median of the East Freeway. At the end of a 13-hour day clearing brush along the coast, Emery dashed onto the freeway but was hit and killed by a motorcycle.

The city kennel rescued the dogs, who were reunited Wednesday with their owners, a senior-citizen couple who had rescued two of the dogs as puppies abandoned in a Houston park and adopted the third as a young stray.

The Chronicle said Emery lived alone in Florida and was apparently estranged from his family. The wife of one of Emery's co-workers spent time in the Florida Keys this week trying to find the family, so far to no avail. But she said she has been deeply impressed at the outpouring of emotion for Emery in Houston and surrounding areas.

Animal lovers have united in fundraising to ensure that Emery is not buried as a pauper and to create a memorial to his generous acts. No Paws Left Behind, a Houston nonprofit, is collecting funds on his behalf.

Another article is entitled Flower Man's home damaged, but volunteers flock to his aid. It tells the story of 70-something folk sculptor Cleveland Turner, whose home and garden have been hailed as one the nation's best examples of African-American yard art. His art has been featured in scholarly publications, popular articles, a documentary and on the internet. Turner stayed in his home during Ike, but the winds mangled his displays of blooming plants and found items, tore a hole in his roof and ceiling sheet rock and downed a large tree, which toppled 20 feet of a chain-link fence that featured more of his art. Another art-covered fence behind the house was also damaged.

The article includes the encouraging report that tomorrow volunteers organized by the Orange Society for Visionary Art will descend on his home to do structural repairs and clean debris. The volunteers are trying to say "thank you" to Turner for his art, which he says was inspired by a vision he experienced during treatment for alcoholism, toward the end of the 17 years he spent homeless on the streets of Houston.

A third article worth noting is Nursing Moody Gardens back to health. It covers repair to the center's Aquarium Pyramid and the more heavily damaged Rain Forest Pyramid. One upside is that despite loss of 80% of several thousand freshwater fish in the latter, the staff managed to save 70 of the last remaining Lake Victoria cichlids on the planet. The article also talks about the five animal-care staff people and 15 maintenance workers who volunteered to remain during the storm. They included animal husbandry manager Greg Whittaker, who survived his his decision in the calm after Ike's first eye-wall passed to wade from their shelter back to the pyramids at 2 a.m. on 9/13, to check on the welfare of the animals. Meanwhile, the second eye-wall passage began, and he nearly didn't make it back alive.

A fourth article says A Navy veteran's mementos turn up after a surprising journey through Hurricane Ike. It tells the amazing story of the storm washing the display case of Eddie Janek's Navy memorabilia from World War II and the Korean War from his home on the bay side of Galveston Island to Pelican Island, nearly five miles away. The medals washed ashore near Texas A&M's maritime campus. Two A&M officials beamed as they returned the intact display case to its owner.

Finally, there's Emergency naturalization ceremony set for Saturday, which says that 1,240 immigrants whose swearing in ceremony had been postponed by Ike until after Monday's deadline to vote actually will be sworn in tomorrow in an emergency ceremony at Rice Stadium.

Thanks go primarily to U.S. Rep. Gene Greene, D-Houston, who pushed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for the emergency ceremony, and Lynn Hughes, administrative judge for the U.S. District Court in Houston, who offered to hold an emergency ceremony and arranged for Rice to host it.

Hughes remarked: "There's a lot of harsh talk about immigrants these days, and here are people doing everything right, com;plying with all of the rules, and we let a modest disruption in the paperwork flow put them off. We need to do this because it is the right thing for us to do."

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