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You Do Not Soon Forget A Flood

By Keith Cowing
August 30, 2017
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You Do Not Soon Forget A Flood

This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same, Eric Berger, Ars Technica
“As a forecaster, what do you tell people when their whole worlds are washing away around them, and things are only going to get worse? I cannot really explain what it was like to walk outside on Sunday morning, in the aftermath of historic rainfall and devastating floods, and contemplate that at least three or four more days and nights of the same rains must come before the Sun will shine again. From a mental health standpoint, the uncertainty this brings adds considerable stress to an already unbearable situation. For many people in Houston, Harvey will be a defining event in our lives. A time when Mother Nature forced a hard reset on us. There are our lives before Harvey and after Harvey. The next time rain clouds form we will ask ourselves, is this really happening again?”
Keith’s note: This is a remarkable piece by Eric Berger. I highly recommend that you read it. I’ve been through a flood as a child where my family’s home was hit and with water up to my waist. Lots of important possessions lost and we were not certain if our home was damaged beyond repair. The flood was limited to a small area but it was a flood none the less. There is something relentless about the rising water – it comes out of nowhere and you are utterly powerless to stop it – until it and it alone decides to leave. One of the things we lost were nearly all of the slides and photos of me and my brothers when we were younger. The flood water eroded them before my eyes – all I could do was look at them and remember a few of them (I still do) as they dissolved. You do not soon forget a flood.
I organized a conference at LSU in 2007 “Risk and Exploration: Earth as Classroom” with Sean O’Keefe and spent a lot of time in Louisiana in the prior year. I toured New Orleans a few months after Katrina with local resident Paul Pastorek. Mile after mile we drove past houses that had been stripped of everything inside. Appliances and bathtubs and lumber sat in huge piles in public parks. And that brown water line was everywhere – on everything. I later told my Dad that I had an idea what it was like to be in Europe after the end of World War II. I also spent some time with the folks who manned the pumps at NASA Michoud while their own homes flooded. I asked one guy why he stayed on the job while his home was in danger. He said in a most humble way “It was my job, sir.” Paul and I were quite taken with this man and his coworkers and later featured their efforts in our conference at LSU.
Despite the debris and gas lines filed with water and abandoned cars on the streets of New Orleans people were lining up to buy their Mardi Gras bling in a store where the sheet rock had not even been replaced. In and among the devastation you’d see new trailers up on blocks with gas generators or solar panels working for people who decided to fix their homes – like homesteaders in an urban wasteland or brightly colored weeds growing up through the forest floor after a fire. People just do things that go beyond what you expect in such situations. I am certain that this will be the case this time in Texas.
People are just amazing. But as Eric notes this is a life-altering event for millions of people. And this event will exact a toll – even as it inspires people to be the best people that they can be.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.