Friday, September 30, 2022

The Other Side

The Other Side.  That is where I am now.  This, I think, is the extent of the damage my house received--a blown down fence and some broken pots.  There are branches all about the yard, but they are small and not large limbs or fallen trees.  I stayed with my mother through the storm without much sleep.  We had another refugee staying in the guest bed, so I slept in something the size and stability of a small canoe.  Or didn't sleep.  I was up and down all night listening to the wind gusts that intensified each hour.  In the morning, we made coffee and watched the news of what had happened in the southwest coastal regions  It was horrific.  

Mid-morning we made a taco salad and hoped the storm would pass quickly.  

It lingered.  

By afternoon, we saw photographs of the damage that my own hometown was sustaining.  Cars in parking lots were underwater.  Entire neighborhoods were flooded.  There was a travel curfew as the rain and wind seemed to intensify.  

By early afternoon, I was exhausted and went to lie down and try to sleep a bit, but it was useless.  I decided to drive to my house to assess the damage.  The roads I drove were mainly clear.  I saw two trees that had toppled, but by and large things did not look as bad as I had imagined.  The closer I got to my house, though, the more I remembered that it was my house, only, with the five broken oaks that destroyed the apartment.  Though I keep the trees trimmed yearly, they are still huge and could fall on the house.  

Branches everywhere, but no limbs, no trees.  The fence between my house and the neighbor had blown down.  There were two toppled plants with broken pots by the kitchen door.  Inside, I ran through the house looking for evidence of water.  I found none.  The power was still on.  I ran to the apartment to check.  Same thing.  Even the broken window I had taped had survived.  

I had been very lucky. 

I decided to drive back to my mother's "the back way" through the neighborhoods just to see.  When I got to the end of the street two blocks from my house, I saw this. 

The water came from the large lake a block away that had overflown its banks.  Many of the big houses on the Point, as it is called, were flooded.  

Wind had not been the biggest factor here with Ian.  It was the water.  Some areas, it was reported, got nearly 20 inches of rain in 24 hours.  Three of my big Otto trash cans had blown open during the storm.  They were nearly full of rain water.  But I am lucky.  My house is on high ground.  Water runs downhill.  It is a law of physics.  I am certain my street looked like a river as the water sought the lake.  Elsewhere, in low lying areas of the county, hundreds if not thousands of homes were underwater.  I didn't see it, but I got a message that Anderson Cooper was riding a motorboat through neighborhoods near the big university that were flooded.  I've not seen those reports yet, but I believe they could be accurate.  

Ian has been horrible and continues to be as it heads toward South Carolina, but the damage is not all due to the intensity of the storm.  Greed has been as much a factor as Global Warming which is the result by and large of greed as well.  But the damage incurred is not the result of a single factor.  There are multiple reasons for the flooding here and the damage on the coast.  Most of the credit goes to developers and slick politicians.  

If you live here in a neighborhood that was developed prior to the 1970s, you probably did not get flooding.  But my own home state is famous for it's land boondoggles.  Much of the coastlines are not natural but are manmade.  As early as the 1920s, new machinery allowed developers to dredge and create land where there was only water.  Much of St. Petersburg and Clearwater were created this way.  There has been much dredging in South Florida.  

Away from the coast, developers called on engineering feats to convince community politicians to allow them to build in low lying places including water recharge areas.  The plan was to build using drainage systems that would transport water to retention ponds.  To allow this, the state required that developers use a mitigation process that required them to purchase land elsewhere that would be set aside never to be developed.  In the area surrounding my hometown, they built so relentlessly that they ran out of land to mitigate.  Developers began to set aside land hundreds of miles away in rural parts of the state.  

Needless to say, this resulted in several problems.  One is that rainwater that used to get purified by the limestone understructure of water recharge zones where it ran into massive underground reservoirs, some of which are used to draw drinking water, became surface water that was susceptible to evaporation and pollution.  When the reservoirs begin to dry up, the limestone caves collapse creating giant sinkholes which eventually become lakes.  Much of the state is sitting on a limestone substrate that is susceptible to what we used to refer to as "acid rain," rain water with an artificially low pH factor caused mainly by the emissions of sulfur dioxides and nitric acids.  Consequently, there are many sinkholes in the state.

When developers build in low lying areas and siphon rainwater into artificial lakes, they give the neighborhoods cryptic names like Snapper Creek and River's Bend in places where there never were snapper or never was a river.  

Comes a storm like Ian.  There is no place for the water to go but to the lowest lying areas.  The ground gets saturated, the retention ponds overflow.  Then the flooding begins.  

I've interviewed developers for environmental documentaries before.  I've interviewed people working for environmental organizations.  I've interviewed land mitigators.  One documentary, now decades old, won minor awards and got me in hot water with the Home Builders Association who thought the doc cast them in bad light.  I, however, was impressed by how well the developers came off with their carefully crafted narratives about "ecologically friendly" development that touted engineering feats that were good for both humans and environment.  

My science degree is old now, and I am neither a geologist nor an environmental engineer and have not run this by any who are.  I hope I haven't butchered this summary beyond credulity, but I think in the main it is accurate.  My point is that the disaster which Ian has wrought has been a long time in the making.  

I came back to my home from my mother's last night.  For some reason, it was strange.  It or I.  I should be ecstatic that my house is intact, but I felt a tugging of sad hands pulling me into a dead sadness.  After I had put everything away, I ran a hot Epsom salts bath, lit some incense and some scented candles, poured a scotch, and crawled into the tub for a soak.  The hurricane has resulted in some unseasonably cool weather.  The house felt damp.  I turned on the heater to dry it out.  The tenant came over to talk things over.  In a little while, I went to bed.  

Today will be cleanup.  I will rake up the many branches and put them into bins.  I think I will get a saw to cut the fallen fence into pieces so I can move it.  I sit now and look out through the kitchen at the deck and yard beginning to show in the grey light of morning.  My spirit sinks.  I feel myself ungrateful.  

There are tens of thousands of people, if not more, whose homes have been destroyed by water and by wind.  They are broken.  Where do they go?  How do they rebuild?  What is going to happen?

Most people in the state do not have flood insurance.  That has not been included in homeowners insurance here for a long time now.  These people will be financially devastated as I was after Charlie.  More so.  

Who will pay?  

I guarantee you it won't be the developers who walked away wealthy.  It won't be the ignorant if not corrupt politicians who gave the green light to those developers, either.  

It is not hard to be grateful, but it is difficult to be happy now.  A sense of gloom lays heavy in the air.  Despite what I must do today, or maybe because of it, I feel enervated.  It will take all my energy to get up, put on my work clothes and leather gloves, and begin to clean up.  But I must.  I will need to go to my mother's and do the same.  It will be a busy and desultory day.  

The weekend, however, will be clear and bright and beautiful.  That is the prediction.  And by then, in my little town built long ago on land that is high and dry, people will be ready to push all this into memory.  There will be eating and drinking and shopping.  "Can you imagine living in one of those flooded communities?" they will silently say in their privileged way.  "It must be awful." Some will speak of the damage to their vacation condos on the beach in sadder, more authentic tones.  There will be some, of course, who have damaged rental properties, houses and commercial buildings, and there will be real concern there.  But our governor, who as a senator opposed federal storm aid, is on television making sure we get a big check from Biden.  

That is the report here from a lucky part of town.  We'll be watching Ian to see what more catastrophe will ensue.  If you are not in it, this must be a hell of a show.  

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