Last week was a big one for news: The elderly woman who couldn’t get cardiopulmonary resuscitation in her nursing home near Bakersfield and died shortly thereafter, the back-and-forth blame game in Washington over who was responsible for the alleged damage being done to the work force and the public by the automatic spending cuts, and the argument as too whether Barack Obama was being, well, disingenuous when he said he was against the sequester from the beginning.
But the story that had me morbidly fascinated was the “sinkhole” story from a very impoverished neighborhood in Seffner, Fla., not far from Tampa.
We all know that, often, when there is a freakish disaster, local officials will say that “it can’t happen here.”
The chances are probably one in a million that it could happen anywhere in the formerly flooded areas of Fairfield or Suisun City. Those of you who have lived here since the 1970s or earlier may remember what the state-named streets in Fairfield looked like after a heavy rain and, if I remember correctly, a high tide. There was a tidal incursion on streets that have long since been redone and the flooding problem totally mitigated.
I have wondered, and this is from someone who has no idea of what goes on when homes and roads are built on infill, what the chances are that what we call a “hundred-year storm” could do any damage?
I recall that in the early 1980s when my wife Clare and I lived in the Woodcreek subdivision, a big storm caused Ledgewood Creek to overflow. We took a look at what usually was more a trickle than a real creek. It had turned into a fast-moving torrent carrying all sorts of debris – old tires, paint cans, you name it – down Astoria Drive. We kept looking down the street to see how fast and high the water from the overflow was moving.
The flooding came within a few blocks of our house but got no farther. In a dry year like this, the chance of serious damage from rain seems remote.
Twice since we have lived in Fairfield I have had to abandon whatever car I was driving because I was caught in local flooding. The last time was the New Year’s Eve storm of 2005-06. I ignored the “road closed” warning and turned up Abernathy Road. Before I could get to the right turn on Mankas Corner Road, water coming from the west side of the road overwhelmed my car, which I had to leave in the middle of Abernathy.
I started slogging through the knee-high water before I was rescued by a friend. Since then, of course, Abernathy has been completely redone, and it appears to be idiot-proof from heedless drivers like me no matter how much rain falls. To add to the misery, the power went out that day.
One can’t help but wonder whether prior years of flooding have softened the ground in unexpected places. I remember when a neighbor was drilling a well in his front yard, and he said, if I remember correctly, that he shouldn’t have to go down more than 70 feet to find water.
My other thought last week, other than sadness for the victim in the sinkhole, was our half-a-dozen trips to a mobile home park not far from Seffner to visit my wife’s late parents. The land up and down the Florida coasts has been heavily built up, but that’s also true of the entire Gulf Coast. We all remember what happened in New Orleans during the last severe storm. Although the Coast Guard rescued thousands of residents, hundreds more died from the flooding.
These disasters of years ago and – usually – far away shouldn’t be cause for alarm where we live. But that sinkhole story was very sad.
Bud Stevenson, a stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at Bsteven254@aol.com.