Down here in the South, after weeks of heavy rain, it feels like it's drizzling from the ground up. Moisture from the saturated earth drains into the air around us and hangs, bloated and heavy like the corpse of a dead dog bobbing down the Chattahoochee. Ever since the flood, the river has had E. Coli levels 42 times greater than the highest safe level. Makes me want to wear a respirator. When you walk the banks of the Hooch these days, an odd assortment of plastics, tennis balls and construction debris hangs in the tree branches like apocalyptic fruit. But I get ahead of myself...
The Great Flood of '09 came out of nowhere. Which was odd in itself. Usually Southern climatologists, with their evangelist hair parts, start speaking in tongues at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm. We went to bed on a Sunday night during a heavy rain and woke up to closed schools, a car-sized sinkhole down the street and multiple reports of violent drowning. The children, of course, treated it like a holiday. I considered reminding them that, one county over, a toddler had died when a flash flood smashed his family's trailer in the night and washed it down the river, but decided against it. Let them have their holiday, I thought, watching the neighbors sandbagging the entrance to their driveway.
As the day passed, rain continued to pour from the sky as if from a tap. We watched the news on television. The flood was consuming whole neighborhoods, whole towns and the interstate highways that connected them. "Any rain that falls has no where to go," reported climatologist David Stooksbury. Church steeples and football goalposts poked up from the muddy waters like violent monuments. Opulent Buckhead mansions squatted in murky filth. Trailer parks floated away. As night descended and the roar of rain still hadn't eased in the least, I began to think of Governor Sonny Perdue, a man whose name I will never tire of saying aloud, and how he asked the state to join him in prayer for rain during a prolonged drought last year.
The next day, schools were closed again. The children rejoiced and ran out into the rain like little Dionysians. I grabbed an umbrella, put on some shorts and my flip-flops and sloshed down to check the progress of the sinkhole. A geyser of water shot 30-feet into the sky out of a gash in the road the size of a tennis court. The rains had transformed a tiny, decorative stream that flowed down through my neighborhood into a raging monster. It had chewed up the water main like bone and spit out a mess of wires and cables like distasteful sinew. Empowered by the storm, it had decided to muscle its way straight to the Chattahoochee, streets and houses and manicured lawns be damned. This pleased me a great deal.
When I got back to the house, the climatologists told me the worst would be over by evening. The kids didn't like this news. For the first time in days, the weatherman also looked a bit down at the mouth. By the time we went to sleep that night, the rain had ceased its Kalashnikov assault on our roof and now just sounded like rain. Nine people had been killed over the last two days. One Tennessee man died swimming in an overflowing ditch on a $5 dare. Most drowned behind the wheels of their cars. Yet as I tried to fall asleep on that last night of the Great Flood of '09, my mind returned to the toddler and I was tremendously thankful that, for our own children, the flood had been nothing more than a school holiday.
"As the storm front rumbled through west Georgia, it turned a normally docile creek into a surging headwater that tore apart 2-year-old Preston Slade Crawford's mobile home around 2 a.m. The boy's body wasn't found until hours later, but his parents had been rescued as another son, age 1, clung to his mother's arms in the county west of Atlanta.
"By the time we got into our vehicle, they were screaming at the back of our house," said Pat Crawford, the boy's grandmother, who watched as the family's mobile home was whisked away. "We could see them, but the current was so bad, we couldn't get to them."
Crawford said she was on higher ground, unable to help her family members. Craig Crawford clung to his 2-year-old son, but the boy was pulled away in a strong undercurrent." (AP, 9/21/09)