September 20, 2017

Irma was horrific, but what if it had been Harvey?

     During the height of Hurricane Harvey, Ashley Madray thought about gathering animals, two by two, and looking for the ark.  “I thought it would run out of water,” Ashley Madray said.  But it didn’t, not until more than 70 inches had flooded his adopted hometown of Houston.    
     Monday, I called the former Wayne County Yellow Jacket and Georgia Bulldog to check on him and his family.  His wife is the former Lee Sewell, who grew up on Cherry Street. The couple’s two children and two grandchildren live within a mile of them.  All were spared from the storm’s wrath.
     To protect T’s house (Ashley Jr.), the father and son dug a trench around the yard.  And when Ashley started rigging up a 75-foot garden hose to siphon water to lower ground, T asked, “Will it work?”  As the floodwaters drained downhill, he then asked, “How did you know how to do that?”  Laughing, Ashley said, “I can’t tell you that.”
      The biggest dangers were fast-moving vehicles sloshing wakes into Ashley and Lee’s home.  He stood in his yard, warning people to slow down on the flooded street.  Still, he said, “It’s crazy.  Lots of neighbors and friends are in a mess.”  But on the bright side, the Jesup native said, “I’ve seen more decent human beings than ever before in my life.  No one had to be called.  They just responded.”
      With six feet of floodwater, Ashley said it was as if someone turned on a fire hose and held it over your house for days. The Gas Innovations executive marveled at the “Cajun Navy” which appeared in all types of boats to rescue strangers.  “I saw a lot of good come out of this crisis,” he said.  People were laughing, crying and hugging.”
     As he was reeling from Harvey’s aftermath, Ashley became worried about his mother, Anita. An angry Hurricane Irma was barreling down on the retired Wayne County High teacher’s home on St. Simons Island.  Just ahead of that storm, he flew his 86-year-old mom to Houston.  Later this week, he’s taking her home to start the post-storm cleanup.
     After Ashley briefed me on the last few weeks, we dropped back 50 years.  In the summer of 1967, his mom and dad, along with Bo and Shirley Warren, rented my mobile home so they could take graduate courses at the University of Georgia.  Today, tiny houses are the rage.  After living in 480 square feet for several years, I feel like a tiny-house pioneer.
     Since Vince Dooley recruited Ashley to play for the Bulldogs, we had to talk about the University of Georgia. Ashley has seen our alma mater beat Notre Dame—twice.  In 1981, his playing days were over.  But as a graduate assistant, he was in New Orleans to witness the Dawgs’ victory over the Fighting Irish to win a national championship.
     Two weeks ago, he made the trek to South Bend.  On the way, he stopped in the Windy City to watch his 85-year-old coach throw out the first pitch in the Cubs’ game.  He gave Coach Dooley high marks for the game-opening toss.  Ashley said it was electric to hear “UGA! UGA! UGA!” echo inside Wrigley Field.
     On Saturday, he said, “It was like a home game.  There was as much red and black as there was green in the stadium.”  For a sports-trifecta weekend, Ashley hustled back to Chicago to cheer for the Atlanta Falcons, who whipped the Bears on Sunday.
     Before our conversation was over, I asked Ashley, “What if Harvey had hit Georgia’s coast?”  He sighed and said, “Oh, man.”  He’s been following our coal-ash controversy.  He agrees that Harvey-like floods would have washed that toxic waste all over Southeast Georgia.
     “Oh, man” is right.
     How many close calls will it take for the coal-ash crowd to wake up?