Monday, May 18, 2009

Inland Hurricane (10 Days Later)

I know, I know. Sounds like hyperbole, right? The storm lasted a bit over 30 minutes in Carbondale, had sustained winds of 88 mph with gusts up to 107 mph. I guess it all depends on how you define a hurricane. If wind speed is all you need , I think we definitely got it. If shape matters, well see image to the left.

Whatever you call it, it was odd. Anomalous, even. In some ways it was not as bad as a tornado. There were (thankfully!) relatively few fatalities as a result of the storm. Only a few homes (again, relatively) were destroyed completely. A week later and most people had their power back, most had filed their claims with insurance companies, many had already received some compensation.

Then, of course, there was the coming together that can happen at times of "breach," that sense of communitas that reveals the storm and storm recovery as a kind of ritual. My media saturated reality was reduced to one radio station, "sacrificing" its commercial play list for call-ins, announcements, and press conferences. My Internet access was reduced to what I could find on the iPhone when I could find bars. For several days after that it was reduced to access at work, highlighting how much of the Internet I stay away from when I am accessing it via professional resources. So, cut off from all of that digital, media chatter, I actually had to talk with community members. Our conversation became about damage assessment and the ability to offer aid. Where were you when it happened?

And then, amazingly, even without federal aid or a national disaster area designation, we picked up and moved on. Proof, I guess, that it was no big deal.

Except it kind of was a big deal. Or at least, a big impediment. A lot of folks I knew just simply left. They drove to Nashville or St. Louis or even New Orleans (how ironic!). I stayed behind and let the aftermath do its work on my own psyche. It was a time to slow down. A time to learn to appreciate a clean thoroughfare, light at the flick of a switch, ease of access to fresh drinking water.

No, it was no Katrina. The voluntary diaspora of the few Southern Illinoisans who left was short-lived. There will be no FEMA trailers, no documentaries.

But it was an anomalous event, an odd weather pattern. Not unique, surely, but strange nonetheless. And a reminder that the weather is behaving oddly these days, often with material consequences and a high price tag in the recovery. An opportunity, perhaps, to pause and meditate on how fragile the underpinnings of our everyday comfort are.

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