A WAKE-UP CALL

9 05 2010

There was no earthquake.  There was no tornado.  There was no hurricane boiling up from the Gulf.  And Wolf Creek Dam didn’t even break.  It was just, as the Army Corps of Engineers put it, “a thousand-year flood.”

And suddenly, life came to a screeching, splashing halt here in middle Tennessee.  Interstate highways were closed and impassible.  The electricity went out over large parts of town.  There was no way to pump gasoline, if you could get anywhere, and grocery stores, their freezers, coolers, and cash registers disabled, closed down as tons of food. albeit only a three-day supply for the city,  spoiled.  Rising waters overwhelmed one of the city’s water treatment plants and came within a foot of flooding the other before starting to recede.

Up where I live, we were lucky.  Our homestead is at the head of a hollow, so although on Saturday and Sunday  we had a whitewater stream rushing down the dirt road that leads up our hill, damaging the road and washing away material we had stockpiled to expand our garden, the water quickly moved on and we have only had to deal witht the relative inconveniences of a 14-hour electrical outage and an intermittent supply of city tap water.

Things have been much more dire elsewhere.  Just a mile downstream from us, White’s Creek has expanded across its floodplain, inundating houses.  Here’s a quote from a friend who lives along the Harpeth:

Beth and I just got back from a 2 hour canoe ride to assess the damage to our place and to the neighbors…Hundreds of our neighbors no longer have houses to come home to. We paddled across the big lake to Beech Bend Subdivision where every house was at least partly submerged along with their cars and trucks. The Harpeth was taking the shortest route by cutting off Beech Bend and running a strong current right through the yards and houses. People had to wade quickly out and had no time to gather anything. We ferried a man back to his house from the shore so he could get his skidoo out of the garage. It barely fit between the water and the top of the door. You could hear the sound of a broken water main inside. He tried to wade  through the house in chest deep water to retrieve his wallet but said his bed was pinned against the ceiling and he couldn’t get to it. A National Guard helicopter was buzzing us, probably thinking we were looters, but they didn’t shoot. A cop back on the shore said that a kayak had just flipped over a few blocks away and the people had to be rescued. He said we had better leave quickly or the authorities would probably not let us get back out. So we stroked hard for home, the current strong between every house.

Except for the fact that the authorities didn’t shoot (hey, my friends are white!), it sounds like New Orleans, doesn’t it?

As an aside, I think the May family should be very grateful that they were stopped from building Maytown, because this flood would have washed it all away.  How ’bout it, Jack?  But, I digress…..

Cassandras like me and Albert Bates (Albert much more emphatically than I, to be sure) have been warning local governments for years that we are woefully unprepared for disaster.  Our police, fire departments, and hospitals have little or nothing in the way of long-term backup for motor fuel or electricity.  Maybe this brief, but dramatic interlude will bring official Nashville to its senses.

The IPCC has warned that one consequence of global warming will be more intense storms, and more of them.  What just happened in Nashville has been termed “a thousand-year storm,” but I have an uneasy feeling that we will see its equal, or worse, a lot sooner than the thirty-first century, quite possibly in the next decade or two.  Maybe even next year.

My eighty-year old neighbor, who has lived in this hollow just about all her life, said she had never seen it rain like that before.  “Is God punishing us for being bad?” she asked my wife.   I would have to say it’s not some God out there that’s punishing us, but this is a fate we are bringing on ourselves.  Can we wake up enough to stop before it’s too late?  Or is it too late already?

music:  The Band, “Look Out Cleveland

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