I'm driving, driving, the sky is dark with clouds, lit with lightening, and the night is alive with memories, remembering another dark and stormy night.
Imagine driving down the interstate, it being raised on a slight embankment, and instead of seeing earth all around, covered with crops as it would normally be, there is only water, with here and there the tops of trees or lonely buildings poking above it.
We were told of another emergency shelter that we could stay in that night, only, as we get near to where our exit is, there's still water on both sides of the road, and as far as we can tell the whole town is under water. So we drive on into the gathering night, yet another storm comes, blessing the earth with water it does not need. Lightening flashes and all we can see around us is water, water everywhere. A few times as we've been traveling, there have been places where water has made it up to the embankment upon which the interstate is built and we slowly, cautiously creep across it (thankfully oftentimes there is a car in front of us so we can see that you are able to cross safely). The lightening flashes yet again and to left, over the fields of water, it appears a funnel cloud is forming. Thankfully it doesn't touch down, but it spooked us even more in an already stressful situation.
I think this is the night we decide to stay at a hotel, somewhere on higher ground, where we feel safe from the lurking horrors of the night.
Another day, another drive. We are making a delivery of blankets for the Red Cross over the Illinois border. The National Guard is in the process of rescuing and evacuating a flooded town and as it has been most days for a few weeks, it is rainy.
We drive around “Road Closed” signs and, again, drive over some small rivers of water. At one point our road is circling around a large hill and when we look down in the valley, where you would normally see cows or horses grazing, we see not one but two large barges towing other barges, lazily chugging around the valley in order to escape the raging Mississippi which refuses to stay in its banks.
Another night, another storm. We are sleeping in the tiny town hall of a tiny town. The building serves as post office, school, community center, as well as town hall.
We are awakened from sleep because the National Guard, whom we have been helping to build a wall around the the town, is pulling out because the sky is falling again and they think this is a losing battle. While we have rested the Guards we have worked with have been replaced with others, who did not know our vehicles have been left on higher ground and that we need a ride. New orders are issued, new logistics figured out and, after saying a few hurried goodbyes to the townspeople who still refuse to leave, we climb aboard to sit in back of a military transport which is designed to hold 30 instead of I and my 2 companions (our leader is up front guiding the Guard to the small church where we parked, where we hope the water hasn't reached).
The canvas in back is left open and, because these vehicles are so big, they not only go on roads which have a few shallow rivers flowing over them, but plow over roads that are completely submerged. So our view from the back is sometimes more eerie than ever, the whole world is made of water, even that upon which we travel, with here and there a tree or the top of a building poking up.
In 2010-2011 I was a part of the Americorps Saint Louis Emergency Response Team and I and 3 others where a part of responding to the Southern Missouri Floods where we help the National Guard fill sandbags, helped the Red Cross however they needed us, and assisted a town in coordinating their volunteer efforts. It was a surreal time but I met some amazing people and worked with some amazing people.
Oh, and the residents who refused to leave where able to keep their town hall from flooding. The Guard had built a wall around the entire town, but the water breached it. But, their hall was the heart of the town and in their saving it the residents saved their hearts and many of them returned after the waters had receded (though, depending on who you talk to, that may or may not have been unwise).