*After Disaster Has Gone Away*
By: Gottin_Himmel
30 June 2013

We preppers sometimes get caught up thinking of widescale, long-term, events that utterly destroy civilization. In the scheme of things, we're more likely to face more mundane challenges. It doesn't take an earth-directed coronal mass ejection to knock you off the grid for a while. It doesn't take an insurrection to isolate a community.

Something as ordinary as a bad flood can change your community for a long time. I sometimes post about what happened to my hometown 17 years ago. We all survive an assortment of personal disasters and go on with life. But, I look at my hometown as a disaster-recovery laboratory because I think this is what many towns might look like after a national "really bad day."

Entire streets were destroyed by that flood. Family homes that I visited as a child are just gone. Backyards are now dusty, muddy lots. Nothing can be rebuilt because flood plain regulations have been tightened up over the years. The mud and dust don't just stay in one place. They find their way onto Main Street. The tax base has eroded and there's not enough money to pay for the kind of municipal services the town used to have. So, the mud and dust collect in gutters. The dirt stays there for a long time until somebody sweeps it away at irregular intervals. The municipal sewer and water authority's facilities took a terrible beating during the flood. Sanitary services were back online in a relatively short time. Mass inoculations prevented epidemics of diseases that haven't been common since our great grandparents' time.

On the other hand, residents were under a boil-water notice for many months after service was restored. The water system was eventually declared inadequate by the state's Department of Environmental Protection, adding another year to the boil-water directive. Its replacement cost several million dollars, the process was not handled well, and now surrounding communities are going their own way, building stupid-expensive systems of their own. Bad feelings cost more than money.

There wasn't the widespread looting that you'd expect if you've ever seen news footage of urban unrest. Theft was more of the sneak-thief variety. Most folks salvaged what they could, heaping their possessions in their yards. The clean-up took weeks, and thieves would help themselves to what they wanted at night when exhausted people snatched a few hours of sleep. The likely culprits were fellow townspeople who thought they needed something at their neighbors' expense.

There was a feeding center for people without utilities who were working on the community flood clean-up. Most folks were pretty good about it, but there were those who helped themselves to the free food even though they were capable of cooking at home and contributed nothing to the town's effort. Today, nobody talks about these little betrayals of trust, but people have long memories. I think this is one of the keys to the suspicion and lack of cooperation I've noticed in the year since I returned to this once happy valley. The library suffered massive flooding damage and a shiny new one was built on a filled-in section of the flood plain previously owned by an unpopular realtor. The townspeople were opposed to the site. Many residents vow never to help the library in future disasters as a result.

The town has lost about 10 percent of its population in the past decade. Fortunately, no one drowned in the flood; the losses came from other sources.

People with ties to the community moved on and were replaced by others who don't share quite the same values. Once well-kept homes and yards are eyesores now, converted into Section 8 rental properties. The cancer rate in the area has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. A research oncologist is conducting a study to find answers. Besides the usual factors of diet, an aging population and genetics, I suspect the flood washed a witch's brew of heavy metals from abandoned coal mines into the environment. The pervasive mud and dust may be more than just a nuisance.

My hometown looks pretty hang-dog these days. It's not just the empty lots where buildings and homes used to be. There's an emptiness to the people that's indescribable, but it's there in their eyes. Things will never be the same. It's not a total zombie apocalypse scenario. There are bright spots amid the dust and mud. A vacant creekside strip of land was bought by a lottery winner and then donated to the town as a public park. This has become the social heart of the town now.

People are pretty resilient and adaptive critters. After all, Rome fell and civilization recovered, but it took a while. I look around this muddy, dusty little town and compare it to those diminished hamlets that were left after the legions marched away for the last time. Many things will be lost, new things will take their place, but petty grudges endure just like the mud and dust. That flood 17 years ago was traumatic. A repeat of that magnitude isn't likely. Heavy rainfall was compounded by a dam failure upstream that day.

Nevertheless, people are panicky whenever a flood alert is issued. This is a change from the normal reaction of my childhood. In those days, people were more philosophical, girded their collective loins, dug in, cleaned up and moved forward.

All that changed on July 17, 1996. Memories are fixed on what happened that day and for a long time afterward. I can only call it a collective case of PTSD.


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