Suffering though a natural disaster is something that no one wants to experience. Whether it be a hurricane, blizzard, or tornado, picking up the pieces and rebuilding is certainly no fun task. Such a difficult time for survivors can be made even more so through the malfeasance from both the public and private sectors.
Robert Williams tells his story of losing his home to a tornado and the struggle his family endured in its aftermath. Beginning with his precocious teenager’s intuitive feeling that a tornado was about to strike, to dealing with relief agencies, and then enduring a series of misadventures in the attempt to reconstruct something resembling a normal life, this personal narrative retelling of the May 1989 tornado outbreak truly grabs the reader and transports them into the lives of the Williams family. The feelings of both gratefulness that nobody in their family died coupled with the loss of most of their possessions and the deaths of some of their pets is just where it begins.
A key scene in Chapter 6, “Two Kinds of Promises: Broken and Kept,” really sets the stage for the rest of the book. The author and his wife were in line in order to get a FEMA loan for rebuilding. The man ahead of them was known to be an irresponsible drunk who stole and hocked other people’s property. He qualified for the maximum allowable amount for a rebuilding grant, which was for $10,000. When the Williams’ got their turn, they were completely dumbfounded that due to “several negative characteristics” on their profile, they didn’t qualify for any funds whatsoever. The FEMA agent admitted it was because he had owned his own home, had no outstanding debts, no criminal record, no substance abuse dependencies, no bounced checks, and was gainfully employed as a freelance writer. He was literally penalized by FEMA for being a responsible adult!
Government “relief” agencies weren’t the only ones to practice malfeasance. The Interdenominational Tornado Relief Coalition (ITRC) was a private sector version that mimicked contemporary popular charities; they spent most of the donated funds on “overhead” and “administrative” costs, and then whatever pittance got allocated to those pathetic victims, they made sure it was done in the most haphazard, irrational way possible. Corruption and interference with genuine relief efforts even during the rebuilding period was standard operating procedure for the ITRC. They were more than happy to brag to the media about how great they were at providing relief services to survivors and their families, but in terms of the day-to-day operations, they were more than happy to stifle any sort of real progress if it provided them an opportunity to skim a “little bit” off the top.
Despite the rampant corruption from both the public and private relief agencies (such as FEMA and the ITRC), the author was still able to provide for his family and eventually build what I think was a better house for approximately $20,000 over the course of 2 years. All the local naysayers, looters, and assorted bureaucrats and busybodies all failed to keep the Williams’ down. Persevering through great adversity demonstrates that a strong family unit can truly make it through just about any calamity.
Not everyone around the Williams family were callous and duplicitous sons of bitchs out to profit from the pain and suffering of others. Individuals that the author knew beforehand pitched in to help at various stages where they could, one of them even providing them a vacation home to live in while their new house was being built. Some local Baptists donated $1,500 (much to the chagrin and protest of the opportunistic ITRC) as well as labor that was greatly appreciated and allocated towards building the new house. Even though former colleagues, extended family, and even their closest church-going neighbors effectively abandoned them, the Williams’ were able to rely on the people who actually helped them, and these folks became their new friends and de facto extended family.
I really liked the author’s recommendations for how to prepare for and handle a natural disaster. The 13 checklists at the back of the book were a great primer for beginning preppers, and even for those hardened survivalists, especially in terms of his advice for handling “relief” agencies. Keep in mind that Williams is much more of the “bunker in” instead of the “bug out” type.
There are really only two problems I have with this book that, admittedly, are ridiculously minor. First, the author’s narrative style at times is designed to pull at your heart-strings. To be fair, some survivalist fiction (like that fear-mongering piece of crap One Second After, which I do not recommend) does attempt to do the same thing; if I had a choice between a crappy fictional version overloaded with predictive programming elements versus a narrative retelling of an actual historical event that someone lived through, I’ll take the latter hands down. Second, there’s no index. It would have been nice to refer to specific topics a lot easier, but like I said, my criticisms for this book are so minor as to be almost non-existent.
Starting Over: A Guide to Fighting Back From Natural Disasters, by Robert L. Williams is nothing short of a truly inspirational and pragmatically useful book, and is more than deserving to warrant my recommendation as a useful source of knowledge for all survivalists worth their salt, as well as for those potential preppers who need that little extra push away from dependence on this rotten system and towards self-reliance. If the most benefit that some fellas get from this book is nothing more than Robert Williams as a positive role model, then this work has done its job in spades. Even if some of his recommendations might seem dated, the focus and dedication that leaps off these pages is reflective of an unrelenting spirit who possesses the will to truly live.