5 Feel Good Stories of Human Resilience in the Midst of Disaster

Most news stories are admittedly really Waaamp Waaamp.

When it comes to natural hazards, as well as the destruction, uncertainty, and isolation that often come with them, what we normally hear about the most are the power grids failing, the extreme destruction, and the loss of human life. And goodness, it’s a lot to process!

The good news? What’s most reported is not always the whole story of what’s happening. The truth is, no matter what awful thing happens in the world, there are always stories of humans doing what we do best: being kind to one another, surviving, supporting each other, and making it through even the most challenging of times - together.

While we all know this in our gut, there’s even research from the University of Delaware that reveals during most earthquakes and hurricanes the majority of people “stay calm and help each other.” Even if there’s looting, it always “pales in significance to the widespread altruism that leads to free and massive giving and sharing of goods and services.”

Simply put, Mother Nature can indeed send her fury, but the power of the human spirit is a mighty force to be reckoned with too.

To celebrate that, here are 5 feel good stories of human resilience.

1. A Restaurant Feeding the 500 -  Texas Freeze, 2021

Recently we saw the frigid horrors of the Texas freeze. We saw a power grid overwhelmed, pipes bursting, clean water supply running out, and many loved ones lost to the cold reality of how fragile we all truly are when facing the elements.

Even so, people rallied together. In Plano, Texas, for example, the owner of Bella Italia Ristorante, Ari Isufaj, opened up his doors to feed over 500 people. His community, many of whom his regular customers, did not have access to food, and so he did what he had to - he stepped up to help. They didn’t have power, like many areas of Texas, but they did have gas enough to cook a substantial meal. 

In addition to that 500, Texan hero Mr. Isufaj also brought over 80 meals to a local church. Perhaps key to his kind heroism was his empathy. He asked himself a question we can all ask ourselves in the midst of apparent chaos, cold, and hunger, “If we’re going through this, can you imagine what other people are going through?”

2. Neighbors and a Garbage Truck to the Rescue! - Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Bringing a new life into the world can be a beautiful thing, but imagine going into labor in the middle of a powerful hurricane that caused multiple feet of flooding.

Well that’s exactly what happened to Greg and Andrea Smith during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Rising floodwaters made it impossible for a normal vehicle to make it through the water, and so they decided to try and have the birth at home, even though they couldn’t get a hold of any emergency responders. Because the grid was overloaded they were not even able to call EMS.

Exhibiting the true spirit of being a good neighbor, Greg and Andrea’s neighbors rallied together, brought birthing tools and equipment, and prepared for going into labor. Because the water was rising, they then opted to move up to a neighbor’s apartment in a higher story.

The story doesn’t end there - without the couple knowing, someone had contacted someone who had access to a large truck and before they knew it, the truck suddenly showed up in front of the building, and the drivers let the couple know that they were going to take them to the hospital safely. As the water had risen multiple feet, there was now an issue actually getting into the truck safely.

Neighbors stepped up once again, formed a human chain, and helped the pregnant Andrea and her husband get to the hospital safe and sound, where their little one Adrielle was born safe and sound.

3. It’s a Sign, “WE ALL SURVIVED” - Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami, 2011

In 2011, when the massive earthquake and devastating accompanying tsunami hit Japan, the world watched in horror at the destruction and loss of human life. It was even more anxiety-producing for college student Akiko Kosaka studying in California, because her entire family lived in the path of the tsunami in the tiny fishing town of Minamisanriku, Japan.

Cell towers and most communication was down, as is often the case after a major disaster, and so Akiko had no way of knowing whether or not her family survived. After fearing her family had passed away for multiple days and giving up hope of knowing, Akiko was then contacted by a friend who told her that they might have seen her sister on a YouTube video (seen below). In the video, a girl on a balcony held up a sign in Japanese that said “WE ALL SURVIVED.”

Akiko eventually found the video, and to her relief, she saw and heard her sister shouting at the camera crew. She was telling them to let her sister in America know that they all made it out okay. Houses on either side of their family home were destroyed, but Akiko Kosaka’s family home - and her entire family - miraculously lived through it all.

4. The Formation of the Cajun Navy - Hurricane Katrina, 2005

Hurricane Katrina became the most destructive natural disaster in American history, but along with its devastating storm surge came a surge of kindness in friendly boat form.

As news spread of thousands of people trapped on rooftops due to flood waters, a Louisiana ex-Senator put out a plea on local radio stations asking for volunteers with boats. Essentially, if anyone had a boat that they could use to help rescue survivors, they were to head to a local mall. Only 24 to 25 boats were expected, but what showed up was around 350 to 400 people, with their boats, at 4am in the morning.

This turned into an 8-mile convoy of rescue boats, which later became known as the Cajun Navy. At first, when they arrived at the floodwaters to help, local authorities said it wasn’t safe and that they couldn’t go any farther.

Well, thankfully these everyday folks with boats didn’t listen, and they went into danger anyway to save their community. The Cajun Navy is credited with rescuing over 10,000 people.

5. The Piano Lessons Must Go On - The Global Pandemic, 2020-21

It’s been the year of isolation for the entire world, but, as the New York Times reported, that didn’t stop 92-year-old Cornelia Vertenstein from teaching her students piano lessons, something she’d done for the last 50 years in Denver, Colorado.

Many people would have given up on teaching piano lessons when stay at home orders were issued nationwide, but Ms. Vertenstein, a Holocaust survivor, was determined that her students continue their studies. They used phone calls, FaceTime, and Zoom, to continue the lessons. Angling the phone so that their teacher could watch and advise, her students knew that when Ms. Vertenstein called, they needed to be ready to play.

When it came time for multiple spring recitals normally scheduled at the University of Denver, Ms. Vertenstein, her students, and their parents devised a way for the whole recital to happen on Zoom. It was a success.

Reflecting on the time Ms. Vertenstein secretly learned piano at a hidden school during the Nazi regime, she said with positivity, “Great minds and achievements came out of that school, which taught me in any situation you can strive, learn, look ahead, and have dreams.” Clearly she applied this same wisdom to the struggle of the pandemic.

Cornelia Vertenstein passed away February 12 of this year, but the musical wisdom she imparted and her determination to survive, thrive, and even dream no matter what, will continue to inspire us all well into the future.

Disasters are tough, but they also reveal the best in us and make our solidarity and resilience shine.

Don’t worry, be ready. Together.