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29.8.17

Yet Another Flood Of A Lifetime

I
f you are one of those people who likes to stand in front of a bus and complain when you get run over, then you won't like what I am about to say.

I am a native Houstonian and a transplant Jakartan.  Both cities are now and have always been prone to floods.  The cities are built on river deltas, which attracted people because the soil was so rich and fertile from...get this...the flooding.  In the 40-odd years I lived in Houston, I saw five "floods of a lifetime."  In the ten years I have lived in Jakarta, I have seen three epic floods.

In a nutshell, if you live in one of these cities and complain about flooding, then you are an idiot.  Sorry to be so blunt, but it is a fact of life that has never and will never change.

When I lived in Houston, I always lived in areas that never flooded.  They were the highest points in the city and everyone who had lived in Houston for any length of time know which areas are prone to flooding and which aren't.  Same with Jakarta.

I chose the area of Jakarta, where I live now, based in part on topographical maps, and part on local wisdom.  This area is often surrounded by flooding, making it difficult to get in or out, but my house is always high and dry.  The same can be said of the neighborhoods that I lived in, in Houston.

Last night, I was watching various coverage of the Houston mess and heard on man being interviewed on a local "news" cast.  "This is the third time my house has been flooded and I think it's time to do something about it," he declared emphatically.

Hey, stupid idiot, I found myself thinking, move somewhere else, preferably out of the flood plain.

I lived in Houston during Carla, Alicia, Allen, Allison, two back-to-back storms in 1973 whose names I don't remember, and others that had no names.  Every single one of them caused the "flood of a lifetime."  Every single one of them caused flooding in the same areas of the city - primarily east and south of the city, which amazingly is where most of the flooding is right now.

Much has been made of TeeVee station KHOU coverage, where they had to move the broadcasts upstairs due to the lower floor being flooded.  This is the fourth time I distinctly remember that happening.  The station's offices are on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, which floods every time someone flushes a toilet.  It is surrounded with flood gates.  It has had an emergency studio upstairs for decades for just this reason.

The real tragedy here is not the flooding.  That has been going on long before any of us can remember, and will continue long into the future.  The tragedy is the sheer number of people standing in front of a bus complaining about being run over.

While I don't take the loss of life lightly, nor the personal loss experienced by many people who belongings are floating in a swamp right now, I have to reiterate the statement by the man on TeeVee.
"This is the third time..."

I have seen well over a dozen major floods, in Houston, Jakarta, New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast and across Indonesia.  In every case, the floods occur in places where flooding is common and expected.  In every case, people move into the areas because, gee-shucks, it hasn't flooded in a long time there...maybe even a lifetime.

The upshot is, if you live in a flood-prone area, build to reflect that obvious fact.  If you live in an earthquake-prone area, build to reflect that obvious fact.  If you live next to a volcano, don't come bitching to me because there's lava in your living room.  And for God's sake, stop asking taxpayers to bail you out every time your lack of forethought gets you in trouble.

While I mourn the loss of life and feel a sense of loss for those who have lost property, I hardly find it a tragedy.  The tragedy is that humans apparently refuse to learn from history, geography and meteorology.

I'm sure the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum were shocked by the devastation wrong by Mount Vesuvius, but which of us hasn't thought that they were idiots for living on the flank of an active volcano?

I suppose that if Americans are willing to bail out college-educated banksters who took excessive risks and lost, then they are willing to bail out folks who live in a swamp in a hurricane-prone area.  It doesn't change the fact that at some point, people need to take personal responsibility for their actions and choices.

If I can move to flood-prone Jakarta, a city I had never been to before living here, and be able (with a little research and forethough) find a section of town to live in that doesn't flood, I know everyone else can do it, too.

Yes, we call it Common Sense, but it is far from common.

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