I love the smell of Javex in the morning. Where to start? It’s all a bit of a jumble right now. (And if I don’t soon find my dog-eared dictionary and well-thumbed thesaurus I may finally be exposed for the simpleton I really am.)
I guess I should begin at the beginning, at around 1 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31, when this whole nightmare began. It was raining when we went to bed that night but we didn’t give it much thought. My wife remarked that in spite of the torrential downpour pounding down on the roof over our heads, the bathroom fan didn’t seem to be leaking, which it had been for many years. Oh, what fools we mortals be.
Shortly after that we were awoken by our son, who shouted at us to get up because the basement was filling with water — fast.
It is interesting to note that when God wanted to punish mankind for its wickedness he chose water as the worst possible thing he could inflict on them by way of indicating the depth of his displeasure. Now I know why.
Until you’ve experienced it yourself you can’t really begin to comprehend the damage that water can do in such a short period of time. Everything it touches is ruined. All the stuff you have accumulated over the years is gone, piled up out on the sidewalk in mouldering heaps of reeking refuse. As I write, there are streets in Gander that look like New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. It’s enough to break your heart.
My son called the fire department at 1:13 am. Apparently there was nothing they could do for us or any of the hundreds of other homeowners who were desperately seeking help of any kind. They did tell him, however, along with everyone else, that the town was getting ready to “open the floodgates,” at the sewage treatment plant which, they assured him, would soon alleviate the situation.
And they were right. Within an hour or so the water had stopped rising. Then it started to recede. We went back to bed at 5 a.m., exhausted and in a state of shock, fearful of what further calamities the morning would bring.
In our case, “it could have been worse,” which is the mantra townspeople have been repeating to each other ever since “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11) on that fateful Friday night when a record-setting 125.8 millimetres of rain was dumped on Gander in a little over 24 hours.
If you had “only” four or five inches of water in your basement, as we did, it could have been worse. It could have been deeper. Or, we could have been out of town for the long weekend. Or, it could have been raw sewage, as in some homes. (Why “raw” sewage, I wonder. Is it any less horrible when it’s cooked?)
Largely by happenstance, a lot of our stuff was up off the floor in plastic totes. And perhaps most importantly for her, my wife somehow managed to “save Christmas,” as she put it, by single-handedly carrying a dozen or more back-breakingly heavy boxes of decorations up over the basement stairs. Meanwhile, my son and I did what we could to stem the tide, which, when you got right down to it, was next to nothing.
A deafening silence
Speaking of which, that has largely been the response from the town so far. Nothing.
The first word anyone heard from them came in the form of a posting on their Facebook page late the following morning.
“The Town of Gander would like to inform its citizens that we are aware of the various water and sewer issues throughout the town. Town of Gander staff have been dispatched to investigate these issues.”
How nice. How thoughtful. How very reassuring for the townsfolk, especially those poor souls who were still knee deep in feces and fetid wastewater. A crew came down our street, poked their noses down a few manholes and reported that everything was working fine. What a relief!
On a related front, it would be more than a week before anyone heard much of anything from the district’s MHA and minister of Municipal Affairs, Kevin O’Brien, whose own department, coincidentally enough, is responsible for disaster relief and whose predecessor, the late Dianne Whalen, handled the aftermath of hurricane Igor so conscientiously and compassionately.
Thanks, Mr. Minister
Minister O’Brien, on the other hand, merely informed flood victims — quite a number of whom had been hit for the second and third time — that while he understood their concerns, they would have to be patient. Furthermore, he said, his government would be working closely with the Town of Gander, which means that just as soon as the federal government says something equally fatuous, we will have all three levels of government assiduously doing absolutely nothing on our behalf. Good news, indeed!
Why is it, I wonder, that the instinctive reaction of most politicians and bureaucrats — and I’m not just referring to Gander here — to this sort of occurrence is to circle the wagons, to go on the defensive and deny any responsibility whatsoever in the hopes of avoiding liability or blame?
You would think that their first priority, above all else, would be to provide immediate assistance to the people they supposedly represent and deal with the crisis itself. But no. Usually they’ll direct one of their highly paid minions to write disingenuous press releases which sound really good (what the hell did I do with my thesaurus?) but actually mean nothing when read carefully — just like that “MacArthur Park” song, the one about leaving the cake out in the rain.
So it was that when their civic leaders failed them, Gander residents looked to themselves for succour. Friends and neighbours have willingly and cheerfully pitched in to help with the cleanup, cutting out wet drywall (an oxymoron if ever there was one); tearing up foul-smelling carpeting and mouldy flooring; spraying down walls and bare studs with bleach; carrying out garbage; dropping by with freshly baked muffins and hot soup; offering words of comfort here, a pat on the back there, and, when needed, a shoulder to cry on.
And so it goes. We’re all taking it one day at a time, trying to cope with this catastrophe as best we can, praying that some day soon we’ll be able to return to at least some semblance of normality.
But if there’s one thing that’s
certain in this ever-changing world of ours it is that life is never
really going to be the same again. The uncertainty will always be with us.
Whenever it rains we’ll be anticipating the worst. Whenever there’s a strange gurgle from the plumbing we’ll be bracing ourselves for another sewer backup. Whenever a tropical storm forms off the coast of Africa we’ll worry about more flooding.
And there’ll be questions, too, of course. Like, is the town ever going to do anything in the long term to increase the capacity of its sewers and storm drains? And if not, how does it plan to cope with the rapid expansion now taking place coupled with the changing weather patterns associated with global warming?
What about property values? Are they going to plummet, and how does all this affect the value of my house? Is there any point in finishing the basement, again, if it’s going to be under water, again, in a few weeks or months? Will there be anything left at all to leave to our children?
And finally, what about those mysterious and much-discussed flood gates, the ones that we were all told were going to be opened after 1 a.m. to relieve the pressure on the lines and bring down the water levels. In a “flooding fact sheet” released on Sept. 4, the Town of Gander asserted that they were already fully opened at 8 p.m, hours before the heaviest rainfall began. So who do we believe?
Depending on who you’re listening to, it would appear that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark, something even more rotten than my carpet.
Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org His column returns Sept. 28.