by Paula Gail Benson
The flood that we have just experienced in Columbia has made me reflect a lot about running water. It’s something that we expect as a part of indoor plumbing. From consumption to bathing to cleaning dishes and clothes, having running water is the crucial element to ensuring ease and convenience of modern living. It’s not something we’d consider as dangerous. But, it became so during what has been called a “thousand-year event.”
We were warned by reporters and government officials to expect excessive rainfall that could lead to flash floods. The Friday before the deluge, I was in Publix with many other folks picking up non-perishables to see me through whatever came. On Saturday, the weather was mild during the day, but in the evening, the rain began and remained constant.
I woke on Sunday and looked out at my yard. Everything appeared normal. Then, I turned on the television. Within blocks of my home, on streets I traveled daily, the water gushed like rapids gone wild. Each picture was more horrifying as I saw places submerged where I shopped and my friends and colleagues lived.
Our local news channels provided twenty-four hour coverage, advising people not to venture out except for emergencies. They had cameras on the scene to chronicle roads and bridges on main thoroughfares collapse or wash away. One reporter told us that she had been urged not to get too emotional, but that she couldn’t help it. Especially, when the rains finally subsided and people came out to see the damage, she was appalled that they walked right up to where the infrastructure was crumbling, possibly endangering themselves and first responders.
There were so many heroic rescue stories. An elderly gentleman trapped in a car told his would be rescuer that he wasn’t afraid to die. The rescuer replied, “Well, I am,” before proceeding to get them both to safety. With two neighbors, a good friend of mine set out in a canoe to help a family who had scrambled to their attic to escape rising waters. The father knocked out a rafter to call for help after 911 was not able to respond, due to so many requests for assistance. On a news story about the incident, the father said how helpless he felt in not being able to save his family. Thankfully, my friend and his neighbors got them out of the house.
Even in the aftermath, there are so many stories of people reaching out to help those in need. A member of my writing group filled the back seat of her car with personal hygiene items, then put a message out on Facebook asking where to take them and how to get there (with the road closings). A law school classmate posted on Facebook pictures of photos and other mementos that had washed into his yard, asking if anyone could identify them so he could return them to the owners.
I stayed in my house until I heard travel was encouraged. Even then, navigating the barricades and figuring out the best route was a challenge. Offices, stores, and restaurants were closed. The water supply was contaminated. The only place to get a hot meal was the Waffle House. They were serving as fast as they could and piling up the dishes, since washing them wasn’t possible. I hesitated, but finally ordered coffee, and was grateful that they gave me three refills. It tasted so good.
As I left for Bouchercon, the news indicated another dam might fail and my area could be evacuated. I decided to head for Raleigh. At least, I had a hotel room there.
I was tremendously fortunate. My home never lost power or water. When I returned from Bouchercon, I had to observe a water boil alert for another half week. At all the restaurants, people were drinking bottled water and eating off plastic. I never realized how much I could miss ice cubes or milk shakes.
Gradually, things are returning to normal. There are still detours around closed streets, churches with prominently displayed “disaster relief” signs, and plenty of houses being gutted and restored.
Carla Damron’s husband found her beloved kayak in a neighbor's yard. Sam Morton helped with the clean up at a school his children had attended. On the first day the sun came out, a local meteorologist, Tim Miller, choked up when he saw it as he gave his forecast.
I’ve come to have a new respect for running water. Not just as something I depend upon, but also as a potentially deadly killer. I understand at least fourteen fatalities were victims of the flood.
A waitress told me during the crisis her son and daughter-in-law, who are firefighters, were working and not allowed to receive calls. She heard on the news that a firefighter was missing and spent a dreadful few hours fearing for them until her son was able to communicate with her and assure her they were fine. The missing firefighter was found alive, after following his training and clinging to a tree for hours as the water rushed below him.
Thanks to everyone, my blogging partners and many others, who have expressed concern and support.
Have you ever faced a natural disaster? What advice do you have for those of us now recovering and rebuilding from the flood?
|Carla Damron's "Poke Boat" Kayak|