The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


March 7, 2012

Disaster junkies turn out to help, do what's needed

The Gadsden Times on “disaster junkies”:

We're not meteorologists or soothsayers, so we're not going to speculate as to whether this year's spring severe weather season will rival last year's in intensity, destructiveness and loss of life.

Things have fired up early and quickly, though. A series of tornadoes in January and February killed 15 people (including two in Alabama on Jan. 23). The March 2 brutal outbreak that ravaged the U.S. heartland (and caused extensive damage in north Alabama) killed at least 37 people.

Some folks who survived the storms physically may have lost everything they have materially. We're sure the federal government and the states involved are marshaling their resources to help, but that can be a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying process. Ask those who still are dealing with the wreckage of April 27, 2011.

Much cleanup and rebuilding ends up being done by volunteers — and that's where “disaster junkies” come in.

The word “junkie” makes us flinch a bit because of its negative connotations, but those quoted last week in an Associated Press profile of the group expressed pride in the label. They pleaded guilty to being “addicted” to helping people in need, without desiring anything in return except personal satisfaction.

No one knows for sure how many “disaster junkies” there are, whether a few hundred or a few thousand, but they turn out when called and do whatever jobs are tossed their way, whether it's cleaning up wreckage or rebuilding entire neighborhoods.

They travel to disaster sites at their own expense and, without complaint, live and eat in Spartan conditions when they get there.

Plenty of people volunteer to help in specific circumstances, but relief organization professionals say the core group of “junkies” is something different. Because they've done it so much, they bring a level of expertise to disaster situations that well-meaning first-time volunteers lack. They don't have to ask “how can I help?” — they know the answer.

We can hear the cynics now. People who travel from disaster to disaster have to be a bit warped, akin to ghouls or ambulance chasers. Maybe it does border on compulsive behavior.

However, we pay more heed to those who have benefited from the “disaster junkies'” efforts than to the cynics. The word “angels” was prominent in the AP profile.

We've often touted the concept of looking out for our neighbors. “Disaster junkies” aren't just talking about it, they're doing it.

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