As I sat down the week before Labor Day to write this article, I considered following up on my recent maintenance agreement column. I also thought about doing a really upbeat piece on the wonderful hot summer we finally experienced - the summer for which we have been waiting several years.

As I started writing, I couldn't help but watch the TV accounts of the tragedies unfolding in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Suddenly maintenance agreements and the hot summer, which seemed so important just a week ago, no longer seemed at all significant. Thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands were fighting for the homes, their possessions, and even their lives.

It made me stop and look at things in a different perspective. My thoughts were mixed as to being thankful for that which we have, while sympathizing with those who are going through such terrible times trying to put their lives back together.

Flashback To St. Louis Flood

In 1993, there was terrible flooding throughout the Midwest including here in St. Louis County. When a levee broke, nine feet of water covered a three- by eight-mile commercial-industrial area. Fortunately, here no lives were lost. Eventually the levee was rebuilt and the area has recently experienced tremendous commercial growth.

After the waters receded, about 30 days after the July 30 St. Louis County levee break, I got to see first hand the devastation that flooding can cause. The mud and muck were actually almost beyond imagination. But we were fortunate that there were virtually no residences involved.

Now as I watch the unbelievable flooding that has covered more than 80 percent of New Orleans, including its residential areas, I cannot express enough what a terrible situation those people are experiencing. Unfortunately, once the water has finally receded, and I have not heard any accurate sounding predictions on when that might occur, I assure you that what those people find will be much worse than their worst fears. It will be beyond description.

Helping Victims Now

Countless organizations are putting together efforts to provide all types of relief to those unfortunate victims. In fact, I understand more than 1,000 people left homeless are being moved here to be housed in a closed St. Louis County jail facility. For the next few weeks, you will be hearing about all types of efforts to provide aid.

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), through its "New Horizons Foundation," has established a fund to assist SMACNA contractors and Sheet Metal Workers' International Association (SMWIA) workers. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, you may contact them at their Web site ( or by phone (703-222-9001).

There is a more important point I want to make. It is likely that in a few weeks the horrors of Katrina will no longer be news and the media will move on to the next issue. However, the problems and issues that have overcome those Southern communities will not go away so quickly.

For many months and even years, the people of those storm- and flood-ravaged areas are going to be working and struggling just to get their lives back to normal. That is when they will need us to remember them.

I ask you to put this issue of The News on your pile that you look at every few weeks and when you do, remember that these people are still going to need our help, our prayers, and anything else we can provide.

Yes, the summer was hot and we should count our blessings - especially as we think of those who are suffering through this worst of our natural disasters.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 09/12/2005