Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reminiscing on Hurricane Floyd

Sitting here streaming The Weather Channel.  About 7 years ago, we moved from West Main Street on the south side of Bound Brook across the tracks to the north side of town.  We lived on West Main Street during Hurricane Floyd.  There's a Tornado Watch right now and the rain is pounding on the roof of the sun porch where I am sitting typing this.  I'm also listening to these gusts of wind increasing.  We miss the excitement of the south side of town.  I feel separated from the action.  Why did we move?  We wanted more space, and the homes on the south side of Bound Brook are mostly 2, 3 and 4 bedroom houses.  And, we prayed about it and felt that the Lord wanted us to move closer to her family.

That was a great photo of the closing of the flood gate going from Bound Brook to South Bound Brook on the OEM blog.  They would not be closing that unless they believed that perhaps it could help the downtown.  Hopefully, with the new pumps working, the flooding can be a few feet lower than it otherwise would be.  Time will tell.  Two of the deaths during Hurricane Floydd in 1999 were in Bound Brook.  During Floydd, some homes actually flooded into their second floors and an elderly couple could not get out of their homes and they drowned.  Their daughter attended our parish.

Tonight, I filled my tub with water just in case.  There is a Tornado Watch in effect.  All kinds of things go on in our town like Bound Brook when a Hurricane like this comes.  During Floyd, we stayed... something just hit the roof, a small branch or something... we stayed through the flood... one and a half basements steps short of the first floor.  Yep, we had 6 feet of water in our basement.  Lesson learned: don't leave paint in the basement.  It was yucky cleanup, but others suffered so much more than we did.  It was vigilante justice that first night.  There we were on West Main Street and the first night, there was no military presence or police protection.  Some of my neighbors had guns and I'm glad they did, because there were looters and there was no other protection.  The next night, the military and the state police came in force.  We were caught by surprise and my wife and I were escorted out of the "Flood Zone" by the national guard in a Humvee.  If we refused, we would have been arrested.  The next day, we snuck back in along the river, walking through a lot of oily toxic sludge probably shortened out lives by 5 years doing that.  The downtime has at least 3 superfund sites nearby so when there is a flood, there is risk of toxic sludge mixing in with the flood waters.  Lots of memories which I wouldn't trade for the world.

The Office of Emergency Management is much more organized and efficient these days.  This time around, they initiated the curfew even before the flooding started.  We just got a reverse-911 recorded phone call warning us that as of 9PM tonight a curfew is now in effect.  I have a deep respect for the work done by all those volunteers and for how much more organized everything has become since Hurricane Floyd.  There will be lots of volunteers staffing make-shift Red Cross shelters in churches or schools.  The is almost always a fire somewhere due to a gas explosion during one of these Hurricanes in our town.  And, we have a great volunteer fire department which, in addition to putting out fires, drives around in the flood zone warning everyone of the impending flood and advising evacuation.  We have our council and mayor, making decisions and doing whatever needs to be done.  And, then, after the flood is over, during the recovery, they will take all kinds of flack from some residents who are going to wine and complain about everything.

During Hurricane Floyd in 1999, a few council members decided that this might be an opportunity to declare almost the whole flood zone a Redevelopment Area.  Among other things, they wanted to tear down West Main Street and replace our residential neighborhood with an office complex.  They were unsuccessful.  Many in the downtown feared a racist motive to remove our Latino contingent.  I was on the redevelopment advisory committee and I brought this concern to the committee.  I used the word "ethnic cleansing" which got a lot of white people in town upset with me.  In hindsight, I wish I had not used that word.  It was overly polemic.  On the other hand, if the concern was baseless, then I wonder why all those white people got so upset with me (disclaimer: I am a white person)?  Yet, there was eventually a DOJ settlement over that whole thing and the borough had to hire a Spanish speaking employee to help act as a liaison.  You would thing we would learn a thing or two.  Unfortunately, today's reverse-911 phone calls were all completely in English with no option for Spanish.  I hope all those Latino businesses on main street were warned that there could be 8 feet of water in their stores tomorrow.

When the flood waters went up in '99, there was a dog who was stuck in the basement across the street from us.  A neighbor went down and set him free from his leash so he could escape.  That dog knew that she saved his life.  Our part of West Main Street literally became an Island.  And, as the waters receded, that same neighbor decided to leave our Island on a rescue boat.  The dog tried to swim after her.  He loved her for saving his life.  We got to know our neighbors so well.  There is nothing like a flood to make you grow close to your neighbors.  My heart goes out to the good people who live in my old stomping grounds.

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