AUSTIN EDITION COL Curious, yes, but gawkers also helped

I was just as curious as anybody was. I mean, let's face it, in spite of the widespread grief and destruction they bring about, floods like the recent one in Austin don't happen very often.

With all the respect and empathy due its victims, a flood is a spectacle, and people want to see it when it happens. Its spectacle is in the sense that it is something we don't see every day, while at the same time, something we don't ever want to see.

So it wasn't surprising that radio announcements asking for help fell upon concerned, benevolent ears, while radio announcements calling for citizens to stay out of the way if they weren't helping fell upon the deaf ears and inquisitive nature of people driven by their desire to witness something out of the ordinary.

When I rode my bike downtown after work on Sept. 15, I had to weave around and through meandering lines of vehicles and their rubbernecking occupants eager for a glimpse of the worst flood in Austin's history.

Looking upon this audience with a certain degree of contempt, however, I was somewhat uncomfortable with my self-righteousness. I knew that, even though I was responding to appeals for help in sandbagging, I was also out for a look-see of my own.


Through my cynical set of eyes, I saw emergency vehicles and heard sirens blaring, trying to navigate the onslaught of onlookers but only able to move lethargically at best. The drivers were noticeably distressed.

I saw a person driving his four-wheel-drive truck through the water and creating a wake that eventually rolled its way to some sandbags, crashing over them like a miniature storm surge and upsetting the people working on them.

Then I reminded myself that those I called spectators might have themselves been on their way to check on or help a loved one.

Looking through a more sensitive set of eyes, I saw those distressed emergency workers trying to respond to a call no matter what they had to do in order to get to it.

I saw a pickup with its back end full of what turned out to be Austin Packers football players and a carload of what appeared to be a small number of Hy-Vee employees parking at the hospital to go downtown and help with the effort.

I saw a man walk up to Farmers and Merchants Bank, shovel in hand, asking what he could do to help.

I saw two young girls walking my parents' neighborhood asking if anybody needed any help with sandbagging.

I saw a volunteer from the Red Cross in a donated van approach us at my parents' house while we were sandbagging and offer us food.


I saw my wife, son and friends volunteer for the Red Cross the next day to try to offer a ray of sunshine for people whose lives otherwise had become darkened by grief.

I saw countless acts of unselfishness amid the audience throughout this disaster, allowing me to see firsthand not only our curious nature as humans, but also how compassionate we become when our neighbors are in need.

The gawking ebbed with the floodwaters, but the flood of good will continues to flow.

Jeff Reinartz is a freelance writer and lifelong Austin resident.

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