Flooding: That Helpless Feeling
In this time of simultaneous natural disasters around the country, it’s tempting to just hunker down in our little comfort zones and let the world take care of its own self. After all, we didn’t cause any of these problems ourselves, did we? When we begin to dissect all the possible causes of a major wildfire, doesn’t it usually result that many, if not most, of them are man-caused or man-abetted? When we see the near-annual flooding along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, we learn that, year after year, a major culprit in these tragedies is overbuilding in flood zones or under-preparation by the authorities in charge of protecting the waterways from excessive flooding.
That’s why it seems so puzzling that Kentucky has been singled out for especially harsh treatment. In the time when we in West Texas are experiencing a ten-year drought, Kentucky has been struck by what they’ve called a “thousand-year flood.” Most of us are familiar enough with “hundred-year flood plains,” where a major flood isn’t supposed to happen more than once in a hundred years. But the Kentucky flooding has confounded meteorologists’ most diligent scientific attempts to pinpoint the period when a major event like this is likely to occur. Areas that never, or hardly ever, flooded before have suddenly found themselves without homes and businesses, and the worst tragedy of all, the loss of so many innocent human lives. This destruction, for the most part, has not occurred in any Kentucky flood-prone areas, leaving thousands of now-homeless people without any way to replace their lost properties. These are not affluent people living in posh gated communities. No, they are largely working-class people whose incomes don’t leave room for budgeting such luxuries as flood insurance.
Where the relief is going to come from are already state and national priorities. We know that certain “go fund me” efforts have begun, which will help a few people whose losses have been both egregious and of immediate concern. But the dollar figure for disaster relief at the national level, while certain to be generated, has not yet been announced. As so often is the case, churches and other philanthropic organizations will organize their members to support emergency relief actions, but the losses are of such a magnitude that they will strain both state and federal resources to make things right. I can say the same thing about our wildfire relief, but I’ll save that for another writing. Suffice it for me to observe that it usually seems that those who have the lowest levels of personal resources are the ones hit the worst.
I can’t pass up the opportunity to share my own experience with a flood disaster.
This one was very localized, and it largely affected an area in far west Austin, around 1983. We (my company) were building homes and townhomes in a middle-class area where the Hill Country was at its eastern limits. We had bought twenty-five lots, and were building on most of them: some units being already occupied while others were in various stages of construction. One night it began to rain, a normal occurrence for Austin in May-June. The system that brought the moisture ran out of forward momentum right over our development, and the rain continued all night long, ten inches of it in all. In the morning I woke to water lapping at my patio and front doors (I owned one of the houses), and my partner calling for ideas as to how to handle it. Like I had a clue!
There were two of our subcontractors on-site, plus my partner and me. We quickly surveyed our properties to see where the flooding was being backed up by obstructions. The subdivision backed up to a series of low caliche mountains, which were basically devoid of vegetation. Sand-laden water flowed freely down the hills as the rain continued all morning, and soon the water’s natural pathways down our streets were becoming mini-dams, where water had nowhere to go except laterally. That is when the houses began to see the flooding on a personal level. We four workers manned shovels and a Bobcat tractor, and began moving mud and rocks. All morning we shoveled and scraped, but the water seemed to be gaining on us. A crowd of homeowners gathered at one crucial spot where we were concentrating our efforts, not to offer help, mind you, but to throw nasty word-bombs our way. It seems that they blamed us for all of nature’s malfeasance. We should have been totally prepared for any contingency, they reasoned, acts of God notwithstanding. We offered them shovels so they might become part of the solution, but got no takers. Instead, they began to haul out cameras to record our lawless behavior for the whole world, plus their lawyers, to see and condemn. It was a low point in my faith in human nature, but it wasn’t over yet. When the rain finally died down around noon, we began to get ahead of the flooding, and actually made progress on guiding the water toward Bull Creek, about two miles away. By the next day we were able to assess our losses, none of which would be covered by our limited construction interest.
It was the breaking point for us, but the homeowners weren’t finished yet. They called a meeting of the homeowners association and demanded my presence, which I was as happy to offer as much as I wanted to meet my Maker right about then. Long story made short, my lawyer came to the rescue by pointing out that the subdivision’s developers had been the culprits. They were the ones who had platted and recorded the original subdivision, and we builders were just following the plan. We weren’t actually responsible for their bad engineering, and we were let off the hook. Actually the hook was ripped violently from our innards, and the resulting pain lasted a long time.
Are you feeling sorry for me by now?
Well thanks, but in the long run it got me out of the construction business and into teaching, where the intrinsic rewards far outweighed the financial. Or so I keep telling my wife, who was my fierce supporter all during that time. Besides, the developers got their just desserts, and they followed me out of business in short order. Now I’m convinced that there really is a God, and I’ve heard he’ll soon be needing some remodeling done.
George Thatcher August 2022
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt