Monday, June 23, 2008

Don’t swim in it

So far, floods and severe weather along the Mississippi River have killed 24 people and injured 148; forced more than 38,000 from their homes; and ruined at least 3.4 million acres in three states. While the state economies are taking a hit and transportation and other businesses are facing operational challenges and the U.S. Mail is delayed, the real casualties are those people whose lives are so foully interrupted – those 38,000 people who have had their homes decimated by filthy, toxic, putrid, dead-livestock and snake-infested water. Unless you’ve had your place underwater, you can’t understand how disgusting it is.

Years ago, I experienced what they call The Great Flood of 1993. It’s said that the 1993 flood was among the most costly and devastating to ever occur in the United States, with $15 billion in damages. I live in the Missouri River Valley, where the Missouri is fed by hundreds of creeks and big streams. All those tributaries were so full they had nowhere to go, so they backed up. Then the levees began to break and it was a mess.

Anyway, the place where we kept our horses and where my husband trained quarter horses was taken by the floodwater. The facility was within a mile of the Missouri River. Every day and night we watched to see what the river would do. Few thought the backwater would be the big threat. We thought we were OK, so like dummies we didn’t move the horses. When the levees broke, the water came fast and over our only exit roads. We moved more than a dozen horses out as bottoms filled up. You can’t ride knotheaded show horses through much more than a puddle, so we loaded them and pulled our trailer out through three feet of water. On the last load, we were almost floating. I sat in the passenger window as a spotter, trying to help my husband keep the wheels on what I thought might be the road.

Soon, the outdoor arena was about five feet under, showing the top rail of the fence. The barn itself had about six or seven feet of water in it. When the water went down, the veterinarian told us we could not put animals back in the barn until after the first hard freeze because of the bacteria.

The damage we are seeing with this current disaster is devastating, and the loss of the crops will have serious consequences. But today I am thinking on a personal level, about each one who has been displaced by the water and who now must go back to a depressing situation. Everything is ruined. Beyond filthy. You stare. All you can hear is the slapping of the water and a buzz of flies and mosquitoes. The cleanup is almost an insurmountable task. The insurance muddle and the mental exhaustion are a nightmare.

I hope that the government’s emergency management people are more responsive than they were in 1993 and with Katrina. Let’s see if FEMA can do better than just dispensing each devastated family a couple of scrub brushes and some bleach and a flyer that advises you to not go barefoot and use plenty of insect repellent. Oh, yeah, and they tell you not to swim in it.