Natural disasters can bring out the best and worst in people.
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina's devastating punch to the Gulf Coast, TV newscasts delivered disturbing images and reports about looting and violence. Unfortunately, I fear that will be how most people remember Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in the years ahead.
However, I will have different memories. I saw those same TV images, but I also had the opportunity to visit parts of the ravaged area about a week after the hurricane struck. Yes, I saw signs that looting had occurred, and police and citizens warned me to be off the streets before dark. I'll remember scenes of destruction like I had never seen before and pray I'll never see again. But I'll also remember people who lost nearly everything but still had a positive outlook on life.
By and large these folks considered themselves lucky, because they were among the survivors. As one family told me, things can be replaced, but people can't.
I'll also remember Fulton Alex-ander, or “Mr. Alexander,” as the police respectfully referred to him. You'll probably never hear about him on TV newscasts.
Officers helping distribute supplies to survivors at a distribution center in Biloxi, Miss., asked me to mention Mr. Alexander in Waste News. He deserved recognition, they said, and they didn't know how else to thank him.
Mr. Alexander, who received no pay, assisted police officers and other workers for days on end, from nearly sunup until sundown, helping distribute items to those in need. Officers were amazed by the amount of time and effort he put into assisting others.
Most of what I learned about Mr. Alexander came from grateful officers. “We could not have done it without him,” said Jared Seabury, an Escambia County, Fla., sheriff's deputy temporarily working in Biloxi. “He's an absolute godsend.”
Mr. Alexander donated not only his time, but also a skid-steer loader and a flatbed trailer from his business to move pallets of donated items arriving by truck.
Mr. Alexander declined to say much about himself. He said the officers, most of whom were from out of state, deserved the credit.
He answered one question, though. “Why are you doing this?” I asked. “This is my home,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “This is a way I can help.”
Saying he was busy, Mr. Alexander then drove away in his skid steer.
Mr. Alexander certainly wasn't the only volunteer. I also met people from the American Red Cross cooking meals in a mobile kitchen for residents and business owners in Slidell, La.
So while there were bad people who took advantage of a bad situation for their own personal gain, I'd like to think decent, caring and giving people like Mr. Alexander greatly outnumbered them.
Geiselman is government affairs editor for Waste News, an Akron, Ohio-based sister newspaper of Plastics News.