Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Somewhere Between Defcon 3 and Defcon 4

So much has happened since we last spoke. It rained and rained and rained. The water kept rising, we broke a couple of flood records and last night we blew up a levee. Yee haw! Seriously, it’s been unreal around here. I have some pictures to share with you, but let me make a few points. First of all, our property is fine. We live somewhat close to a small river and some low land, but the Hula-gen’s all live on high ground, and I’ve never been so grateful to live on a hill in all my life. Secondly, the pictures I will show you are not indicative of everyone in this region. I don’t want to make it seem as if the whole place is under water. However, we do have a LOT of folks in this area who are struggling with flooding, and it has gotten much worse than we ever dreamed it would. There is a substantial loss of property, and this flooding is second only to the great flood of 1937 that prompted the construction of flood walls in this part of the country in the 1940’s. Finally, the rivers are expected to crest around here in a couple of days, and the rain stopped this morning so we are feeling much more hopeful today than we did yesterday when the crest predictions suddenly jumped higher. The sun was like an old friend we hadn’t seen in ages when it popped out today.

This whole mess started a couple of weeks ago. We had a fair amount of rain in early April, and then it started pouring rain two weeks ago and just didn’t stop. We had downpour after downpour. I’ve lost track of how many inches of rain we actually had, but I know we had ten inches in a five day period and we are probably somewhere close to the twenty inch mark. Some of that came with sudden tornado warnings. In fact, we just missed getting the devastation that Alabama got. That system grew after it traveled through here, and frankly, even some of our folks who are dealing with flooding are feeling a little better off than those poor people in Alabama and Mississippi. At least most of our people will have something to go home to, albeit wet and damaged.

In this region, we are surrounded by water. If you look at the map, you’ll see we are bordered by the Mississippi River, the Ohio River, the Tennessee River, Clarks River, Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake. There is a system of dams that works to protect this part of the country, but the amount of water we received overwhelmed the system. The ground became saturated, and we finally reached the point that there was nowhere for new rainfall to go. It seeped into areas where it normally doesn’t go, and even though floodgates were installed in our city and others, we just couldn’t protect everything and everybody. There are people who have lived close to the rivers all their lives and are used to dealing with high water, but this flood reached people who have never had flooding on their property. We have seen water in places where it’s never been before.

The road I normally take to work.

Sandbagging became necessary for many people.

We headed into the weekend thinking that the rivers would crest at one level Tuesday, and then yesterday morning that prediction jumped significantly, putting a lot more folks into crisis mode. People who originally thought their sandbagging was enough tried to sandbag more and watched while the water washed over their sandbags and overtook their homes. Others were forced to give up the fight and leave. We had multiple evacuations in several communities yesterday. Some people who never dreamed they would have to sandbag, found out otherwise and started building a ring of protection around their homes. It all culminated with the Army Corps of Engineers blowing up a section of levee in southeast Missouri that flooded thousands of acres of farmland and destroyed about 100 homes but took the pressure off multiple cities, including ours, and saved thousands of homes and businesses. It was a decision that no one wanted to make, and it bubbled up to the US Supreme Court. Many of you in the states probably saw something about it on the national news this morning. A bit of background, the ability to blow up that levee if need be is something that was put into place after the 1927 flood. The people who own that property have always been aware of that possibility. That doesn’t make it any easier to see your life’s work get washed away in one fell swoop. For the last few days, thousands of folks have been listening and waiting for a decision on detonation. The Corps loaded liquid explosives into tubes in the levee and got everything ready yesterday. We got word late yesterday that it would blow around 9pm. It actually happened a little before 10pm and it was the shot heard round the region.

Photo Courtesy: US Army Corps of Engineers

Even though it was probably forty or so miles from my city, many of us heard the boom. It registered on the Richter scale. It was shocking how loud it was. The effect was an immediate drop in the water level at Cairo, Illinois, a town that was evacuated Sunday. The predicted river crest for our town is now three feet lower than expected, which will keep the water out of several homes and businesses here and keep open a main artery through town. There could be up to two more blasts at that levee before they’re done.

It will take a while for the water to go down. In our county alone, dozens of roads are closed. This is the road I usually take to work.

We have had several people drive into water and have to be rescued. No one has died, but at least one came close when she drove into that very road I just showed you. A couple of the major bridges in this region have bounced back and forth between being open and closed because of water over the access roads to those bridges.

There will be a LOT of cleanup when this is over. We have officially flooded to a level second only to the great flood of 1937, something my grandparents, who lost property in the ’37 flood, would never have believed. I still can’t believe it myself. Next week at the place where I work, we will be collecting flood cleanup supplies, so my attention is focused on planning that project right now. This mess isn’t over, but for now, I’m thankful that my house is dry, my peeps are all dry, and I live in a part of the country where we will gladly help each other clean up and get moving again.


oreneta said...

Sounds really bad, but also sounds like it could be a lot worse......hang in there, you'll dry out some day...good grief.

Jan n Jer said...

What a mess this weather has been. As we watch the news everyday n see the devastation to so many people, it reminds me of my many blessings and keeps me very humble! Life goes on and people recover, with lots of prayer and hard work! All we can do is keep the faith and hope for the best.

The Church Lady said...

Yes. I saw this amazing coverage on the news. That is really something else. I had no idea you would be affected, although I remember your post from last week about the levee wall and thought about you immediately. So, did you make it into work via an alternate route? Hope you all dry out soon. The weather has been crazy all over the US!

the parishioner who doesn't do anything said...

People out here can't even comprehend all that water.

TACMAC said...

Hula, this is such a horrible flood! Your pictures were terrific! My mom was 15 when she went through the 1937 flood. It brought her such heartbreak because it swallowed the city (and they lived downtown). Thank goodness for that floodwall. I heard that "someone" said it was unslightly and should be torn so that people buying downtown condos could see the river!! Well, can you see it now????? Take care of everyone there....all thoughts and prayers are back at my hometown!

Trailboss said...

The woman you refer to that drove through the water and almost died is one of my best friends. She is still in ICU at Lourde's. She was a very lucky woman.

I am thankful that I live in an area that has a higher elevation. The drive into Paducah has been challenging but I just go through Lone Oak and haven't had any problems.

It's good to hear that yall are still dry. Let's just pray to the rain Gods (so to speak) that the worst is over.

J.G. said...

So much water! It's so sad to see the damage to people's homes. At least there is a warning and time to prepare. Small consolation, but better than a tornado.

Cruise Mom said...

I've been amazed at how little coverage this is getting on the national news - many of my friends weren't even aware of the flooding. It is hard to comprehend the power of that much water from up here where many of our rivers are about the size of Massac Creek. Hang in there!