Friday, June 30, 2006

Flooding damage in New York

This post is long and not about DXpeditioning. Skip it if you like.

My business trip to New York state was anything but quick or routine. Flood waters coursed across my route and the damage it imposed was almost unimaginable. After hitting Albany I had angled south but was detoured. Rumors were the interstate had washed away taking the lives of two truck drivers in the process. Bypassing this mess only led me to a virtual dead-end near Oneonta.
By this time, Tom (a fellow from our partner company that was to join us in this larger meeting) called me on my cell phone and I began getting the full picture. The Binghamton area, where tomorrow's meeting was to occur, was hard-hit by the rising water. There was no way to get there tonight. Further, the hotel we had booked had closed and was partially engulfed in the flood-waters, too. Could I meet them elsewhere?
Elsewhere, in this case, meant traveling north to Utica then west to Syracuse and then south again. I agreed to try.
It was now 5:30 PM, my estimated arrival time when the trip had begun. I was hungry and a little weary from the drive. "Now is a good time to reassess", I thought to myself. I canceled the route on my StreetPilot and pulled into a strip mall parking lot. A meal and a look at the map would be a good next step, except everything was closed. I wandered up the road to an Arby's which was also closed. The locals had obviously done the right thing by packing up and moving to higher ground. I should do the same.
I turned around and headed towards Cooperstown, north of Oneonta, in hopes of eventually making it to Utica and interstate 90 to again head west. As I began my trek the full damage was apparent. The isolation of the interstates I had traveled on thus far had hidden the worst of the storm's wrath. Now, as I wind my way north, I see streams and rivers pouring over their banks, mercilessly washing out anything in its newly adopted path: parking lots, cars, and houses. Water, only inches deep, thankfully, laps over the road in places.
Past Cooperstown lakes have risen so high whole houses are consumed. Families wander along the road surveying the damage to their homes and their lives. After seeing this my complaints about being a little hungry and a little sore from driving seem small and petty.
My cell phone rings again. My colleagues have located a new hotel and urge me to move my reservations quickly, before it fills. At least cell phones still work.
Route 20, which is part of the path I need to follow to reach that more northerly route, is packed. Some are those rerouted from other roads now flooded. Others are most certainly refugees abandoning their homes and traveling, perhaps, to impose on relatives. I get into the long line.
Men standing with flares burning and wands waving direct traffic first this way then that. I creep along at the same pace one could walk until finally directed north again. The line of cars both in front of me and behind becomes apparent as I crest a hill. People who live along this sleepy road sit on their porches staring at the endless parade of cars. One young man holds a video camera, points it towards me and my car, and smiles. I smile back and even wave. I'm sure this spectacle is a marvel to him as he's not seen its cause.
I turned on the radio and scanned through 2m to see if I could find an active repeater. I found several with SkyWarn activity on it. I listen. What I hear is disturbing: reports of pea or quarter-sized hail are first predicted and then reported. More rain is on the way. When there is a lull, I call out and ask for some advice. The ham on the other end is near my ultimate destination for tonight and tells me where the storms are and best routes to take and avoid. He ends with, "be careful. 73."
It seems that every intersection has men with reflective vests and flares telling people, "no, you can't go that way." I realize that I've probably not seen the worst of the damage as I'm not even allows to get close to it!
Hour-by-hour we creep along. Finally, I get close to Utica and interstate 90. It is dusk and I can see the lightning on the horizon. The temperature drops slightly. The wind picks up. Then it begins to rain. Not some wimpy soft Protestant shower but a good, old-fashioned Baptist downpour. My wipers cycle furiously and barely keep up. Then comes the thunder and the light show. Cloud-to-cloud first, then cloud-to-ground, clearly visible in the distance.
Finally I make it to the interstate and though top speed for us few on the road at this point is 45 miles-per-hour (with flashers blinking) we are, at last, making progress. I arrive at the hotel only 6 hours later than my original ETA, crawl into my bed, and crash.
Morning brings news that the meeting has been canceled. The facilities we were to use are being accosted by the rising water. After breakfast and a few formalities, I climb back in the car to head east and home.
Now, from interstate 90, which runs long the rise between valleys, I can see some of the devastation even more clearly than yesterday. Whole downtown areas submerged. What was a lumber yard now has water nearly to the high roofs of the material sheds. Just a half mile away, the former contents of those sheds, plywood and shingles, lay strewn where the receding water had left them. For some reason, this saddened me even more than the other horrors for it seemed to me that this was especially cruel: while people's homes and businesses had been destroyed, Mother Nature now felt that was not enough, that the seeds of hope for new construction in these planks and 2x4s and plywood sheets should also be destroyed, taking both the past and the future from these people with its torrent of water.
A 100 yard phalanx of debris in the form of trees, branches, brush, and anything that can float now presses against an old iron bridge just north of the interstate. That bridge had been there for, what, 50 years? 70 years? 100 years? Will it survive the night?
As I approached the Massachusetts border the damage from the flooding diminished until it was only a memory. I made it home, safe, dry, and happy in the late afternoon.
I took no pictures of what I saw, but neither was it necessary. The images are so vivid in my mind it is hard to believe that I would ever forget them.

Again, this was not about DXpeditioning. Sorry for the distraction. I will return to the topic in tomorrow's post. 73 de NE1RD.


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