Hurricane Irene Observations
Published on August 29, 2011 by Sara Foss

First of all, I'd like to start by saying that I feel terrible for anyone who suffered as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Irene. 

Now that I have that out of the way, and at the risk of sounding incredibly callous, I'd like to talk a little bit about how mesmerized I am by floods. I wouldn't want them to happen every other week, and the damage and loss of life is very sad. But, wow, are they impressive. I learned this as a child, when the town of Hillsboro, N.H., where I was living at the time, experienced flooding. I don't know what most people do in response to flooding, but in my family we like to go look at it. From a safe vantage point, of course. And I don't think we're unique: My friend Julianne's house in Kentucky was flooded a couple years ago, and she seemed to share the attitude of my family; unable to stop the water, she and her husband got into their pontoon boat and went for a ride. "We figured we might as well have a beer and explore," she said.

I live in Albany, which fared fairly well in the storm. Schenectady, however, is a different story. I was in awe when I drove in to work, and at lunch I pulled off the road and joined the masses who were parking there and walking over to the river to get a look at the roiling waters. After work, I wandered down to the Corning Preserve, where the water had flooded up to the amphitheater, and over the bike path. There was a sign at the pedestrian bridge stating that the walkway was closed, and ordinarily I obey signs like that (at least in broad daylight), but throngs of people were casually ignorning it, and I decided to join them. In fact, it felt like a party! I ran into an old neighbor down there, and we gawked at the debris rushing past, the ducks paddling around the park and the picnic tables that were mostly submerged.

Predictably, some of the flood-related commentary has irritated me. For one thing, I don't want to hear that it was a message from God. (Yes, Michele Bachmann, I'm talking to you.) But she's not the only one saying stuff like that - one of my Facebook friends seems to think that the flooding, coming so soon after the earthquake, is a sign that we earthlings need to get our spiritual house in order. Frankly, I can't take anyone who presumes to know what God is thinking very seriously, and this is doubly true when there's a disaster.

I'm also tired of hearing people suggest that we over-reacted to the storm. I'm OK with criticizing the hysterical news coverage; it's one thing to keep people informed, and another thing to sensationalize and freak people out. (The TV reporters, in particular, seem to think that when they stand out in the rain for hours speaking into a microphone they've become martyrs to some kind of cause.) But I'm not OK with suggesting that too much was done. The preparation helped save lives and reduce the amount of property damage, and if too little was done, or the storm was stronger and deadlier, we'd be hearing a lot of screaming about how not enough was done. Also, the people complaining about how too much was done weren't affected by the storm. Go talk to someone in Vermont or Scotia, N.Y., and see how they feel.

Speaking of hard-hit areas, my onetime stomping ground of West Lebanon, N.H., saw a lot of flooding and nearby towns experienced a lot of damage. Here's a video of the Quechee Bridge getting washed away by the Ottauquchee River.

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