When Disaster Strikes

When disasters happen, do we feel worse if we’ve been to the place where it happened?

I got to thinking about this after a colleague said that she felt particularly connected to the wildfires in Southern California because she had been vacationing in San Diego recently.

I was remembering how, in 2005, the husband and I were riveted by news coverage of the flooding in New Orleans. It’s a city we love and have visited often, and our feelings for it were not abstract. I know that our sympathy and our charitable instincts were intensified by our affection for the place and its people.

It may not be possible to quantify or compare the horror that Americans felt on Sept. 11, 2001, but I remember thinking as we watched the World Trade Center towers burn and fall on TV that we had been there, up on the observation deck of the south tower.

In the case of the wildfires, we were connected by more than a visit. Our daughter is living in San Diego and we were in frequent contact with her during the fires. I followed them closely enough in the news to know the names of the distinct fires: the Witch fire, the Harris fire, the Rice fire.

That’s not to say we don’t feel bad when a disaster happens in a place unfamiliar to us. The 2003 tsunami in the Indian Ocean was heartbreaking for the whole world. But there must have been an extra sense of loss for those who really knew the place and the people.


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