SoCS: flood anniversary

Linda chose “where” as a prompt for this September 11th, assuming, perhaps correctly, that most posts would be about where we were when we found out about the 9/11 attacks in the US twenty years ago.

In Broome County NY where I live, besides the twenty year retrospectives of the 9/11 attacks, we are having the ten year retrospective of a record high flooding event on the Susquehanna River. The ground was still saturated from hurricane Irene when the remnants of tropical storm Lee dumped about ten inches of rain.

Where my house is is near a flood wall for a creek that runs into the Susquehanna. The creek came up fast with the river flooding a bit later as it collected all the run-off from the creeks as well as what was running off the hills and being dumped by storm drains.

The power was shut off in our neighborhood as the houses closer to the river started to flood. If we didn’t have a generator, our basement would have flooded when our sump pump lost electricity. One of my Memories on Facebook helpfully reminded me that two blocks from us houses had basements totally full of water and two blocks in the other direction the road was washed out and a gas main was broken. Three blocks away there was standing surface water. A big intersection of Main Street and the Parkway was underwater, too.

Most of our neighborhood had been evacuated the night the flooding began, but our little section was only under evacuation order for a few hours on the third day of the flood. We later discovered that the reason was that they were afraid of the flood wall being overtopped. Even though the creek itself had begun to recede, the flooding of the river had backed water up into the creekbed so that the water was within a foot of the top of the wall. (Just to clarify, this is an earthen/stone flood wall, not a concrete one.)

We have been lucky not to have had another severe flood like that one in the last ten years. The prior record-setting flood had been in 2006 and I fully expected we would have had another horrible flood by now.

Unfortunately, I know it is just a matter of time. Looking around the US, we have catastrophic fires in the West and flooding aftermath in Louisiana and the South, in Tennessee, and across a swath of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. There are fires in Siberia, floods in Germany and other areas in Europe, killer heat waves, and on and on. While the events themselves are natural, they have been made worse by human-caused climate change.

We have so much work to do to try to stabilize the climate and protect human, animal, plant, and marine life. And we are far behind in our efforts.

I’m upset because scientists and activists have been warning about this for decades. I myself have tried to amplify the message about climate change. It seems that people are finally listening but the amount of change of policy and behavior now will have to be huge to make a dent. Our family has tried hard to reduce our carbon footprint and to advocate for change but the world needs those in power to finally step up and lead. Governments and businesses need to put people and planet over profits. The money won’t be worth much if the planet becomes uninhabitable.
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This less-than-cheery post is part of Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday series. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/09/10/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-11-2021/

Slow recovery

Nearly every night on the news, there is coverage of devastation in some US state due to flood, wildfire, mudslide, tornado, hurricane, or ice/snowstorm. Solemn footage of some reporter surrounded by a tangle of building debris or downed trees and powerlines. If the disaster is widespread enough, the coverage may even go on for a couple of weeks. Invariably, though, the reporters and national attention move on to the next disaster scene, masking the truth that recovery, if possible, takes months or years.

I drove today though one of the neighborhoods in my town which was most severely affected in the September 2011 flood of the Susquehanna and its tributaries in the Southern Tier of New York. We had received ten inches of rain when the remnants of tropical storm Lee fell on ground already saturated by the fringe of hurricane Irene days before. First, there was flash flooding of the creeks, followed by record flooding of the Susquehanna. Some photos we took are here:

  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2019747698814.2103178.1397554070&type=1&l=f4365bbc43

 https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2016067046800.2103029.1397554070&type=1&l=3df89ce2ba

You won’t see any of the neighborhood pictures here because it was cordoned off. Not even residents were allowed in for days. Even after the river had receded and water had been pumped out of houses and basements, storm water and sewage from the broken infrastructure system flowed into the basements, re-filling them. Some houses had to be pumped out four or five times.

Some houses were condemned. Some were repairable, but homeowners, many who had lived in their homes for decades, weren’t able to withstand the stress of rebuilding and worrying if it would happen again. A few properties were abandoned, while others were sold to speculators for pennies on the dollar. Some people were able to repair their homes with the help of federal flood insurance, while others relied on non-profits, friends, relatives, and savings to rebuild. Other homes were put on the market, some in a livable state and some not, but buyers were hard to come by.

There had initially been a tussle in Washington over funding FEMA’s response to Irene/Lee, but that was resolved. New York’s state government was very little help to us.

It wasn’t until the federal funding battle after Superstorm Sandy that New York State went to bat for us so that our area finally was able to get buyouts for some of our damaged properties, getting partial compensation to property owners and funds for the towns to tear down the houses and convert them to green space. It was too late for many of the affected homeowners, but it has helped some, and transformed the neighborhood into what I saw today.

The street is a patchwork of occupied houses with tidy lawns next to homes for sale – some repaired and some, surrounded by tall grass and overgrown shrubs, still in their flood-damaged state – next to lots where houses were recently leveled, covered in straw to protect grass seed, next to  larger-than-expected expanses of lawn where the demolitions were long enough ago  for the grass to have grown in. The nursing home that flooded is still sitting empty; they are building a new home in another part of town.

It still saddens me every time I drive through. For the neighborhood, nearly three years later, recovery continues, but it will never be complete.