Flooding is the natural-disaster story of the summer season, which is a definite upgrade from spring’s tornados, but, as anyone who’s lived through one can tell you, is no picnic.
Flooding was a hardy perennial in Fort Wayne, which sits at the confluence of three rivers, and despite its laughable name (the Summit City, technically true), floods like a toilet in a jail. When I interviewed there, in 1984, the paper had just won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the flood of ’82. I read the framed front pages that flanked the Big P on the wall and got the strong impression the flood was a rare event, although there had been one in 1978 that ranked right up there.
It flooded in 1985. It flooded so many times before I left in 2004 that the routine, and the slate of stories we always wrote, became familiar. First the parks filled, then certain neighborhoods, almost all poor — I know, I’m astonished too — then a few more neighborhoods. We did stories on the city’s flood command center, where the public-works people dispatched sandbags. We did stories on the sandbagging, on the plucky teens and other volunteers who would come down to the city garage to fill them and stack them. When the Army Corps of Engineers sent their heavy-duty pumps, we wrote about that, too. For a while, the paper went through metro editors the way Spinal Tap went through drummers, and one of them was an out-of-towner. We had a rare summer flood one year, and she said in a meeting she didn’t understand how the St. Mary’s had flooded, it didn’t rain that much. Someone else explained that 16 inches of rain had fallen in the watershed in the last 10 days or so, and from the way she blinked, he knew she didn’t know what a watershed was. I’m sure she learned. Everyone learned.
We had a storm here in May that dumped 2.7 inches of rain in an hour, and some people had basement flooding, much of it raw sewage. A public-works consultant came to the city council meeting to explain about combined sewers and pump failure and all the rest of it, and I felt like a Hoosier again. I was helping my intern, and explained in a whisper what a combined sewer was — storm and sanitary together, bad — and realized I’m a flooding expert. Sort of; I don’t need the jargon explained, anyway. I know what flap gates are. I know you can’t get let combined-sewer runoff go into a lake or river to save a few basements, at least not without a nice fine from the EPA. And I learned something, too; you can let runoff in, but it has to be a 100-year storm, and there better be documentation. (I know what a 100-year storm is; they happen about every five years.)
I covered Mississippi River flooding in 1993. One of the last gasps of ambition of our little paper was this form of foreign correspondence; we didn’t cover national political conventions, but we did cover floods in other cities. I watched people in Iowa reclaim their houses from floodwaters that had reached the gutters, and thought, all in all, I’d prefer fire, assuming everyone gets out of the house safely. Then you don’t have to look at your belongings through a thin film of sewage.
Writing that last line — looking at your belongings under a thin film of sewage — it occurred to me that I’d written all this before. And whaddaya know, I have. Almost at the same time of year. Three years ago.
Maybe it’s time to shut down this blog. Maybe I’ve run out of things to say. Oh, what the hell — it never stopped Mitch Albom or Bob Greene! Onward!
Actually, this is a good time to note that this is a particularly nutso week, and there will be no entry Wednesday. I’m taking Kate to summer camp that day, and we’ll be rolling out at oh-dark something. This is her first such experience, at a fine-arts camp on the other side of the state. (Not Interlochen. Thanks for asking, though.) She may fancy herself a rock ‘n’ rolla, but she’s going to get some discipline in jazz bass first.
So since this seems to be the place for it, some bloggage:
In 2003, a Fort Wayne doctor crashed the plane he was flying, killing his wife and two of his three children. He survived, along with his son, 8 at the time. Terrible tragedy. He rebuilt his life, he and his son recovered, and he remarried. On Friday, he crashed another plane, killing his second wife and himself, although the son survived. Again. He’s very badly hurt, but expected to survive. What are the odds, Pilot Joe?
Did I mention my man Mitch a little while ago? He feeds the needy cookies. Someone else’s cookies, but oh well — I’m sure he paid for them.
Virginia Heffernan at the NYT on content farms, and Google’s new algorithm that allegedly freezes them out. The details are almost unbelievable, but are all true. One of my students had a brief interlude with one. He wrote one article, and was paid 38 cents. A couple CFs picked up the porn principal story, and ran it through some weird copyright-cleanser; a ‘bot changed every few words to synonyms. But there were lots of ads. I hope it paid someone.
OK, off to drink a lot more coffee and see if I can make sense of the day. Enjoy yours.