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Friday, March 11, 2011

Disasters

Our weather for the last three months has followed an annoying pattern:  ice on top of snow on top of snow, then a rapid thaw, then immediately more snow, then another rapid thaw, then heavy rain followed by more snow and then more rain.  And more rain and more rain.

All this left the ground saturated, and the water table high, and conditions right for some basement flooding.  I've been preparing for this since the rains began last weekend, sweeping the basement floor and picking up any loose items and making sure I knew where my pumps were.  We dodged the flooding bullet last weekend, and every day up until yesterday.  Yesterday it was clear that we would be getting an all-day soaking rain.  My water detector started to sound sometime around ten o'clock last night, and I realized I wouldn't be getting much sleep.

At first the water was just a trickle, and it looked like I might be able to contain it with some dams made from towels.  I checked on these dams several times and it looked like they were holding.  But then the rain picked up in intensity and the saturated soil began to void its excess water into our basement.  It quickly spilled beyond the dams, until they were nothing but waterlogged towels in the middle of a partially-flooded section of our basement.  I set up the pumps and broke out the lengths of garden hose for directing the water across our cellar and through the garage and down the driveway.  These are submersible pumps that need a minimal amount of water (about one-eighth of an inch) to get the pumping action started.  Below that they will shut down, or just burn out. So it's actually necessary to allow some depth of water to accumulate before you activate them.  (Most installed sump pumps are built into holes in the cellar floor where the water will accumulate first.)  Some water had gotten into the downstairs bathroom, too, so that called for more floor towels.

After that it became a cycle of laying down towels to try to contain the spread of the water, checking the pumps to make sure they were in deep enough water, changing out dry towels for soaked ones, putting the wet towels in the washer, shutting down the pumps if they had pumped themselves dry, putting the washed towels in the dryer, and reactivating the pumps when water had accumulated again.  Over and over and over.

Eleven o'clock rolled to midnight, and I switched to the Weather Channel to get radar updates on the storm.  It looked like the  worst was past, but it would take a while for all the excess water to percolate through the soil.

I rummaged through the downstairs bedroom where I sleep when I stay over.  This is only partly below ground, so flooding must be severe for water to push into this area.  Nevertheless I looked for things that were on the floor that could be ruined by any water that might get in.  I spotted the power strip/surge protector for the VCR, DVD player, and digital cable box dangling off the edge of the entertainment center - not on the floor, but suspended by the various wires and cables leading into it.  I reeled it up and tucked it into the entertainment center, next to the TV.

The cycle continued.  At its worst I had maybe a quarter of an inch of water in some parts of the basement, maybe a little more.  The pumps pumped away, and I kept relocating them to be in the deepest part of the water.  Dry towels replaced wet, which went in the washer and then the dryer and then back on the floor.

It was getting late.  After one o'clock in the morning, maybe two.  There was a presentation I wanted to see in Scranton on Green Energy Jobs at ten o'clock, and I would have to be out of the house by nine to be sure I made it with time to spare.  Even allowing just an hour to get up and get ready, I would need to be out of bed in just six hours.  During my working days that would seem like a luxuriously excessive amount of sleep, but now it seemed barely adequate.  I got myself ready for bed, to maybe grab sleep in two hour chunks, checking the pumps and changing the towels in between. I decided to watch a little TV first.  See if the storm had truly moved on.  I hit the ON button and automatically punched up the Weather Channel.

All I got was static.

OK, it was just working a few hours ago.  What happened?  What changed? I immediately suspected the power strip / surge protector.  Had I manhandled it, maybe disconnected something?  I picked it up and examined it.  Everything seemed to be plugged in.  I unplugged everything, one at a time, and plugged it back in, just to be sure.  I noticed that the digital cable thingie didn't have an indicator light showing.  Could that be switched off?  No, the switch was in the "on" position.  Then I realized I must have switched off the power strip when I was handling it.  (The TV is plugged in separately, which is why I got static instead of nothing.)

I flipped the switch and the screen went to black as the digital cable box reinitialized.  Then it remembered that I had punched up the Weather Channel.  Or maybe that was just the last channel selected.  Either way, I was suddenly treated to images of utter devastation in Japan.

Magnitude 8.9?  That can't be right.

I flicked back and forth between the Weather Channel and CNN.  The news was unbelievable.  An earthquake of that magnitude, just off the coast?  Surely there will be - and yes, there it was, footage of the tsunami, washing across farmlands in the Japanese coastal countryside.  The buildings looked undamaged, and the fields looked empty.  Was there time to evacuate everyone?  The answer became clear as the helicopter-borne camera followed the advancing wave and, in the near distance, a moving line of cars and trucks became visible.  Did the people in those vehicles know that death was coming?  Were they racing away from it, or just going from one place to another, assuming the worst of the earthquake had  passed?  While I watched the camera never followed the wave front right up to those cars.  Each car, each truck, had at least one living person it it.  If the tsunami reached those vehicles, each person in them would almost certainly be dead in the near future as a consequence.

The image changed to a factory of some sort, maybe a refinery.  Great spherical tanks close to each other, some burning spectacularly.  Occasionally the orange glow of the fire would flare up as, I suppose, another tank exploded.

I watched.  I dozed.  I woke at one point to the sound of the video shot within an office building as the quake hit.  At another point I awoke to something else: I didn't know what it was, but I knew I had programmed myself to get up when I heard it.  It wasn't an alarm.  It was...nothing?  Ah, yes.  Nothing.  The sound of the dryer stopping.  Another load of towels ready to change out.

I went into the flooded part of the basement.  I had had the pumps switched off, and the water had re-accumulated.  The towels I had on the floor were completely saturated.  I had maybe a quarter of an inch of water at the deepest parts.

It was nothing.  A little pumping, some towels, some quick mopping with bleachy water, and everything would be fine.  I had just watched a wall of water destroying houses and snuffing out lives as it rolled across Japan.  I had no worries.

1 comment:

Todd HellsKitchen said...

Glad you are doing pretty okay under the circumstances...