Sunday, September 8, 2013. A gorgeous late summer day in the Triple Cities of upstate New York. We got up to about 68 degrees (20 Celsius) with a light breeze and plenty of sunshine. (Some like it warmer, but, for me, this is ideal.)
Today is Blues on the Bridge, a wonderful celebration of music and community in downtown Binghamton, New York. I'll be there later this evening.
But two years ago today, it was so different. The rain was pouring down and communities all over New York and Pennsylvania were getting ready to evacuate.
An interesting mailing came to me yesterday from our town of Union, in upstate New York. The brochure started out by saying:
"If you received this brochure in the mail, you live in an area where potential flooding is a concern...."
What a masterpiece of understatement, for those living in portions of my neighborhood.
(The sign on this house, located in the hard hit portion of Westover, near Johnson City, New York, is hard to read. It was erected in August and reads "23 months still no help from FEMA Gov. Cuomo Sen. Libous We are drowning!" (For my foreign readers, FEMA is our Federal Emergency Management Agency.)
On September 8 and 9, 2013, that house, and others on that street, nearly did drown. In places, the water depth was some eight feet. The road was closed for almost a week. That house, and others, are supposed to be bought out. The plan, as far as I know, is to make a park out of that part of our neighborhood. But there has been no buyout (yet), and instead, we got this brochure from the town. And their advice to us - buy flood insurance. (more on that later).
Inside the brochure is this flood map, titled "Town of Union Flood Prone Areas." The map shows 100 year and 500 year flood zones in colors. Supposedly, I'm in a 500 year flood area. So was the above street.
Since then, we've had two 500 year floods in five years.
The waters came within several feet of our house and we did have losses - and we know that next time - and there will be a next time - it will be worse.
Since 1988, climate change has come. As I mentioned, our neighborhood suffered two 500 year floods, one in 2006 and a worse one in 2011. At some point they will redraw the flood maps, but they weren't redrawn after the 2006 flood and I'm not holding my breath about when the next update will come out.
Businesses in our neighborhood still struggle to survive. Some have gone out of business. One, BAE Systems, employing over 3000 people, had its building ruined and came close to leaving our area all together. (Our elected officials worked tirelessly to keep BAE in our Triple Cities. They were able to, thanks to other vacant buildings in the area being available for immediate occupancy, and the granting of a lot of tax breaks. However, BAE has only committed for another three years, the last I knew.)
And it just isn't us in upstate New York. All over our country, all over our world, cities and countrysides are being flooded. News of flooding somewhere is almost constantly in the news. Last year, Superstorm Sandy. This year, Missouri and North Carolina in the United States, among others. Calgary and other parts of Alberta, in Canada. Germany. Austria. Poland (along with some other European countries.) India. Indonesia. Myanmar. There were a lot more. So multiply us by - thousands? millions? and you have a global disaster in the making.
We MUST wake up and realize our new reality is here. I've talked to contractors in our area, and there are ways to build that will help a building survive a flood and help the cleanup be easier.
Our 2011 floods were from a record rainfall year that ended with two tropical storms in less than two weeks. This year, areas some 30 miles from us (Cortland, NY) were flooded from heavy summer rains, and, earlier in the year, other parts of upstate New York (Utica) were hit by storms which "trained" - in other words, one storm followed another which followed another, causing unrelenting hours of rain.
Flood insurance? In the United States, homeowners insurance does not cover flood. Flood coverage must be purchased separately. Its underwriters depend on flood maps to charge a correct premium. Current, accurate flood maps are a must - and yet we don't have them here in our area. I suspect many other flood maps haven't been updated to the new reality, either.
So, what happens if the flood insurance program goes bankrupt? Has anyone given that any thought, given that the flooding situation in our country is worsening?
A headline in yesterday's local paper said it well: "Flooding lessons have yet to be learned". And today's headline: "Open wounds Long road to recovery for residents hit during '06, '11 floods"
It's not a happy anniversary. I, and others, become anxious every time it rains.
But for today, we are enjoying Blues on the Bridge, knowing that some of the organizers were, themselves, flooded out in 2011. But they survived and we will, too.
Don't count Binghamton, or Westover, out.