Flood brings out best in worst of times
The natural disaster that rained down on Texas late last month has been called an epic flood. It registered about 50 inches in some places by the time the storm pushed on to soak another town and wash away another farm crop. While watching the news, we saw hundreds of people plucked out of the water that engulfed their homes. Streets had become rivers and yards had become lakes. And it rained and it rained and it rained.
News reporters acknowledged the rapid and professional actions of groups trained and assigned to respond to natural disasters, but such an unprecedented rain demanded more personnel and equipment than could have been anticipated.
Time and time again reporters and emergency response professionals praised the immense rescue efforts by volunteers who, on their own, saw a need and jumped in and did something about it. These average citizens manned fishing boats and pleasure crafts, scouring the flooded areas in search of victims stranded in soggy buildings or clinging to roof tops. They carried folks who had trouble walking, hauled pets in cages and comforted the frightened. It was an encouraging story of neighbors helping neighbors in a time of need. We saw Americans at their best in the worst of times.
We in Southern Indiana are no strangers to suffering caused by rising flood waters. Perhaps you have seen some of the old photos that record the Ohio River flood of 1937 that devastated parts of Louisville and wiped out old Leavenworth. Families and services were separated and rendered dysfunctional while a massive body of muddy watered swirled not only between two states but into their home lands.
The scars of that treacherous storm can still be seen and the efforts to avert such tragedy still stand. Leavenworth as a town was moved up on the hill by the federal government, and the riverfront is devoted to campers and wildlife. Small dams have been abandoned and huge dams forming lakes have been built on the Ohio River.
All natural disasters seem ‘epic’ when they hit our own homes and ravage our streets and commercial buildings. Many of you have had such heart-wrenching experiences in your own lives.
My first encounter with a local flood was in January 1959. We were living on the third floor of The Corydon Democrat building right across from the county courthouse. At this intersection, the road rises up the north hill and boats brought here were carrying people who had been rescued from low-lying areas along the Indian creeks. It was dark, it was snowing and it was heart wrenching to witness. Below me, eight feet of water swirled in the front door of the newspaper building and out the back carrying with it debris and printing supplies. Little did I know how that deluge of water would impact all of us and how we would relate to the creeks in years to come. We are still wrestling with how to wisely use the land in the flood plain.
When water is rising and people are seeking higher ground, there is a lot activity along with fear and speculation. But, the real work of a flood takes place after the water recedes.
After the 1979 flood in English, I vividly remember a bobcat going back and forth into a wet and decaying grocery store. Every load dumped into the trash signaled a loss of livelihood, resources and hopes for the future.
Following the last big flood on the Blue River, I found a flock of people from the Fountain United Methodist Church area hauling belongings through a mud-soaked front yard and into a dry trailer. They were fast, they were efficient, they were compassionate and they saved the day.
In all floods, lives are disrupted and, in many cases, changed forever. As in most natural disasters, it is those who have the least that lose the most. But, we all gain something, too.
We saw the best in our fellow residents as they helped clean up gooey mud that coated everything the water touched. We saw the outpouring of supplies to those displaced by the swirling muck. We saw rescuers risking their own safety as they entered uncertain and harsh conditions.
It is good to see again in the Gulf Coast area that great American trait of caring and sharing. With our country so polarized on issues of pubic policy and leadership, we need a big dose of human goodwill between strangers and neighbors alike.
Water is basic to life as we know it. Scientists exploring outer space search first for signs of water. Our bodies and our planet surface are composed of more than 60 percent water. When contemplating the future of our planet and its ecosystem, there is room for many interpretations.
Scientists have said, that while this most recent flood was probably not caused by climate change, our practices might intensify the altercation of our climate. I do think there is a worthy and urgent discussion in which we all need to be engaged. What is the role of human activity in the destruction of our environment?
What we do about such natural disasters is a statement about America. Will we consider the environment as we build the infrastructure and help people rebuild their lives?
Let us hope we have the resolve to take hold of this issue and stay with it forever.