Dallas based CBS News correspondent David Begnaud tweeted yesterday, “Puerto Ricans aren’t talking about politics, the NFL or people who feel the need to kneel; they’re desperate for water, power, fuel & food.” Begnaud’s tweet came in the midst of a day where the only news we heard or saw was a football player kneeling, locking arms, sitting on a bench or an empty sideline where the team chose not to be present for the National Anthem. And while I personally was consumed yesterday with reading tweets about the NFL protest and looking at pictures of my favorite players and teams wanting to see what they chose to do, I felt a great sense of guilt when I read Begnaud’s tweet. I retweeted with the knowledge that I would take time to focus on the issues that really matter today in this online space.
So here goes…
On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southern Texas. While the storm had begun forming some 8 days prior, no one knew the intensity and severity of its impact. Hurricane Harvey ended the 12-year drought our nation had gone through of no hurricanes making landfall at such an intensity. For four days, the rains never ceased. Areas received between 40 – 50 inches of rain causing catastrophic flooding. Harvey has since been declared the “wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States.” 
After periods of stalling, and weakening, Harvey regained strength on the night of August 24th and made landfall in Rockport, Texas, at peak intensity on the 25th. The unprecedented rainfall wreaked havoc all over the southern region of the Lone Star state. On August 28th, Hurricane Harvey reemerged back over the Gulf of Mexico and made its third and final landfall in Louisiana on the 29th. To date, 83 lives were lost in the path of Hurricane Harvey. Early, preliminary estimates show $70-$200 billion dollars in economic losses. Unfortunately for those who are suffering, a large portion of the losses were sustained by uninsured homeowners. I heard just the other day, something like less than 15% of Houstonians have flood insurance.
More than 300,000 Texans were left without electricity in the aftermath of Harvey. Approximately 13,000 people had to be rescued across south Texas and some 30,000 were displaced by the storm. The Texas Department of Safety has stated that “more than 185,000 homes were damaged and 9,000 destroyed.”  Aransas County was one of the most tremendously damaged areas where the wind gusts were over 132 mph near Port Aransas. In Rockport, entire blocks were leveled by the winds. The city’s courthouse was severely damaged from a cargo trailer that was hurled by the winds into it. Nearly every single structure in Port Aransas suffered damage. 
While things have been contentious in our nation since the Presidential Election last year, America rallies when tragedy strikes. We always have, and God-willing, we always will. When something horrible happens in our nation we quickly see fellow Americans put aside their political differences, with no regard to color, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion, and come to the aid and defense of our fellow citizens.
It’s who we are.
It’s what makes America great.
We don’t need red hats to remind us to make America great again.
It’s in our DNA.
It’s who we are.
Just as Hurricane Harvey dissipated, Hurricane Irma formed.
Hurricane Irma was the strongest observed hurricane in the Atlantic since Wilma, of 2005, in terms of maximum sustained winds. Irma was the most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina in 2005, and the first to make landfall in Florida in 12 years. Irma caused widespread and catastrophic damage throughout its long lifetime, particularly in parts of the northeastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys. The warm waters between Cuba and Florida intensified Irma’s strength. The storm caused catastrophic damage in Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands. As of September 19th, Hurricane Irma had claimed the lives of 102 people, 58 inside the United States and 44 in the Caribbean.  It was only the fifth time in the 45-year history of Walt Disney World Resort that they were completely closed due to the storm.
Many people forget that there are islands in the Caribbean that belong to the United States. Places like Saint John in the US Virgin Islands had widespread structural damage, including their airport. The waves hit Puerto Rico reaching 30 feet in height and 111 mph wind gusts.  And it could be months before some of their citizens regain power.
Preliminary estimates show Hurricane Irma caused at a minimum $50 billion in damage on the mainland of the United States.  At times during the storm over 1.5 million Americans were without power in Florida. FEMA estimated nearly 25% of all buildings in the Florida Keys were destroyed, with another 65% significantly damaged. 
And yet, again, America rallied.
Statistics show that nearly 7.3 percent of the population in South Florida is made up of unauthorized immigrants. Per the Pew Research Center, “about 450,000 unauthorized immigrants reside in the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area.” While South Florida trails other major urban centers, that also attract undocumented immigrants, it is also behind Houston who has roughly 575,000. 
As rescuers scoured Houston and South Florida to help rescue those in the path of Harvey and Irma, they did not stop to ask if those in need were American citizens or if they had papers to show they “belonged” here.
They simply helped.
They saved lives.
They brought people into their boats and trucks and carried them to safety.
Guys like my friend Casey left their own families behind to be present and help, whatever the need may be.
You see in times of need, we are all Americans. We don’t see color, we don’t see gender, we don’t see religion, we see a fellow neighbor who needs us.
And that is the beauty of America.
We lose sight of our beauty when we focus on who’s kneeling and who’s tweeting.
The focus the past few days on television and social media has been on the National Anthem. And the truth is, no matter if Colin Kaepernick is kneeling during the National Anthem or not, “Our flag was still there.”
On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812, a war fought to ensure our freedom. The sight of “Old Glory” flying high led Francis Scott Key to pen the words to the song that eventually became the national anthem of the United States of America.  And we ARE still the UNITED States of America. No matter what teams stayed in their locker rooms yesterday and no matter what POTUS put on Twitter, “Old Glory” is still flying high and there are still men and women who are defending our freedom, and our rights, at home and abroad and they deserve our utmost respect and eternal gratitude.
And as long as we still look after our brothers and sisters, care for our neighbors and rescue those around us in times of need, we will ALWAYS be the UNITED States of America.
Don’t lose sight of the brave souls who helped those around them in South Texas and South Florida during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma just because your social media account is filled with bickering over football games and football players.
 Kevin Sullivan, Arelis R. Hernandez and David A. Fahrenthold (August 29, 2017). “Harvey leaving record rainfall, at least 22 deaths behind in Houston”. Chicago Tribune. Washington Post. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
 “Houston residents begin ‘massive’ cleanup as Harvey death toll hits 45”. The Guardian. London: Guardian Media Group. September 1, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
 Breslin, Sean (August 28, 2017). “Harvey’s Ground Zero: Search Continues for Missing Along Texas Coast”. The Weather Channel. Atlanta: Landmark Communications (1982–2008) Consortium made up of The Blackstone Group, Bain Capital, and NBCUniversal (2008–). Retrieved August 29, 2017.
 Number Of Deaths Due To Hurricane Irma Rises To 50 In Florida”. NDTV. September 19, 2017. Retrieved September 19, 2017.
 “Red Cross Establishes Helpline For Family Reunification; Ferry Service Between St. Thomas And St. John To Resume Soon”. The Virgin Islands Consortium.
 “Hurricane Irma: Florida assesses damage as storm weakens”. BBC News. September 11, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
 Holly Yan; Madison Park (September 12, 2017). “25% of Florida Keys houses destroyed as 15 million Floridians have no power”. CNN. Retrieved September 12, 2017.
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/usaorbust/