Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Forty days and forty nights

Water is trickling from taps here in Mason City this morning, and that's the good news as Iowa deals with unprecedented flooding. The bad news: More heavy rain is in the forecast for today and Thursday after another night punctuated by thunderstorms, hail and tornado sightings to the northeast.

Overnight, levees held in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, protecting downtowns that were evacuated yesterday afternoon, as the Cedar River crested --- this time. Although water now is pouring over the emergency spillway at the massive Saylorville Dam above Des Moines on the Des Moines River, it looks like flood-control measures put into place after 1993 floods are working. Water also is going over spillways at the Coralville Dam on the Iowa River, threatening Iowa City; and mandatory evacuations have been announced in Cedar Rapids, next stop for the Cedar River.

Charles City, just to the east of Mason City, sustained far worse flooding than our own; and tiny New Hartford to the southeast, hit hard by a tornado that killed two two weeks ago, was inundated. Such a time!

Throughout all of this, Chariton has remained high and dry as southern Iowa escaped the worst of the weather --- so far. And I'm glad of that.

The trouble began here in River City (Meredith Willson's hometown you know) Saturday night as weather alerts set off emergency radios again and again and warning sirens sent us to the office basement a couple of times. Although very little rain fell in Mason City, the area to the north was deluged.

After 1 a.m. (by which time I was soundly sleeping), the rains started here. If I had not slept so soundly, I would have known that the rain had overwhelmed the roof draining system, creating a waterfall from the roof near my east bedroom window. The sill of that window is at ground level and invited the water in. So when I awoke about 6, arose and walked toward the window I walked from dry into squishy carpet.

But my problem was minor, so I got ready and went to 8 a.m. morning prayer at St. John's --- like my apartment building and the office on some of Mason City's highest ground. I really didn't know anything major was up until I drove west out of town toward the interstate about 9 a.m. and saw flooded streets and West Park entirely under water.

As I drove south the water continued to rise to unprecedented levels in Mason City along the Winnebago River and Willow Creek --- the two largest of the many streams that meander through town. As I was leaving, homes were flooding and before the day had ended, the Winnebago --- at unprecedented levels --- had topped levees protecting the water treatment plant forcing city workers to shut it down.

Shutting the water plant down prevented major damage, so after two days of inconvenience, bottled water and portable toilets the system is being repressurized and filled. That will get life back to normal for most of us, but not for those whose homes, farms and businesses were flooded, heavily damaged and/or destroyed.

Two thoughts come to mind, neither original. First, how ill-equipped we are to live as our pioneer ancestors did and how much we complain when a few of the conveniences are temporarily removed. And second, how often we forget that we do not control nature; that all those intricate processes into which we fit in a minor sort of way and sometimes try to affect roll on with or without us. If we build near a stream, what we build eventually will be washed down it. If we build on the prairie, we live always with the possibility a great cloud will move in from the west and blow what we build away.

1 comment:

Ed Abbey said...

The flood has yet to reach down here but it is coming. I think tomorrow is supposed to be the worst. With the long cold winter and now the very wet spring, this year will surely go down in the record books of Iowa.