Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Flooding in Binghamton, Part V

September 17, 2011:
One week later and looking ahead.
The water up to the flood wall, photo from newsfeed.

It’s freezing right now. It’s a beautiful wintry night, as if the earth has emerged from a trance the way I do, so bitterly cold you can’t get your bones warm. I can feel the chill coming off her, through my walls and into my home, radiating off the wooden floor. We have no heat right now.
Tonight I am thinking about all of those displaced people, a couple hundred left who cannot go back home, whose homes are not safe. And so many more still trying to replace heat and hot water tanks. And still some without power until all the homes are checked. Everyone has a flood story, ranging from inconvenience to devastation to despair.
The damage is unbelievable. Every area that was underwater has to be gone through, one house at a time, by the city code workers checking the foundations and looking for hazards that would compromise the safety of the home. Like the flood in 2006, many homes will need some serious work before their owners can rehabitate. What happens to them between now and then? Other houses have been condemned, which means owners are not allowed to step foot inside. So when I say people have lost everything, I mean everything.
It could have been worse. It’s my mantra right now. It could have been worse. That doesn’t make the reality less bad. It makes things like heat, water, shelter, basic hygiene more important. More relevant. I can’t even imagine what the people of New Orleans went through after Katrina. I just can’t let myself think about it.

Downtown Owego, underwater, newsfeed photo.
Owego was underwater. Johnson City was underwater. Twin Orchards was underwater. Conklin, Kirkwood, Union, Windsor, Unadilla, Binghamton, Apalachin… and so many more places were partially or fully underwater. Several NYSEG substations flooded. Two sewage treatment plants flooded. An entire school was lost in Endicott. It was the first week back. Union, Vestal and Conklin towns are still under curfews and some towns have to boil water, signs of lingering effects.
Most people have heard of the pet store in Johnson City, who did not evacuate their animals on Wednesday and Thursday morning were not allowed into the building that was underwater. It wasn’t safe to go into the water and at that point, unfortunately, authorities were rushing to evacuate residents who had become priority. One hundred animals died. It’s saddening. It’s saddening that there was any loss of life.
It could have been worse.
The police, guardsmen and first responders, including FEMA workers, have been working tirelessly, often on 12 or 14 hour shifts to get people home and cleanups in motion. Dozens of donation centers have opened up handing out food and clothes to families who lost their homes. Businesses are pitching in to raise money for flood victims and/or do their laundry for them, offer free bowling games, etc. From the debris of what was left behind, the idea of community is growing from the muck.
I have a story second-hand of Wegmans, our favorite grocery store, handing a check to an employee whose house flooded that would cover the costs of a new water heater and furnace. I have followed the stories on Facebook of people stopping into Whole in the Wall, a favorite local restaurant, to help clean up and rip out the sodden insulation. The fact that they thanked another local restaurant, The Lost Dog Café, for feeding them during the cleanup is heartwarming.

Lourdes Hospital, 2011, photo from newsfeed.
In 2006 Lourdes Hospital, on the river, flooded and had to be evacuated. Just this past April they finished the construction of their new flood walls. They held beautifully. In aerial photos you can see the flooding of their parking lots around it, but besides reports of needing to use generator power, the hospital remained safe.
I am proud of my city. We learned from the last flood and while this one is proving to be more devastating, the information for residents came quicker and the response time was faster as well. We weren’t prepared but we were better prepared all the same.
After a natural disaster, there is no such thing as business as usual, though it's true the world keeps moving forward. Perhaps we need to be more like the water that ravaged us, flexible and changing and less like the earth we build our homes with. It’s more metaphor than opinion. We think of earth as stability and security (at least, those of us who don’t live in areas prone to earthquakes).  We build our homes and think we are safe within them. But in Ouaquaga Creek, the flood waters move stones the size of cars with ease. I keep thinking of a time when humans were nomadic, moving seasonally to suit the changes of the land instead of figuring out ways to make the land do what we want it to do.
There are layers to everything and my brain tends to find strange nooks and crannies. We’re coming up on the Autumnal Equinox, a time of balance as we are coming out of an extreme natural imbalance. Many of the houses that were flooded also flooded in 2006. Those residents are facing a tough decision of whether or not to rebuild (again) or move. There’s this community feeling of needing to rebuild to show that we’re strong and we can overcome… in a general sense. But at the individual level of existing paycheck to paycheck, how many times do you watch your home flood before deciding that rebuilding may be a fool’s errand? I do not envy those faced with such a decision.
There’s no way to tidy this up in a conclusion. We are still learning the extent of damages and we are still figuring out what needs to be done for the immediate and distant futures. You may not hear much about us on the news anymore, but the reality is that the work of recovery is only just beginning. For us, this is just starting. Be grateful for the many blessings you have.
Keep us in your thoughts. Keep us in your hearts.

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