Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Washed Away" by Geoff Williams (2013)

It’s quite a coincidence that Geoff Williams new book “Washed Away”; the story of the Great Flood of 1913; should have been released in the weeks before the recent blizzard that crippled most of the northeastern portion of our nation. Why? Because that storm in 1913 was just about a mirror image of the one that we just experienced.

On March 23, 1913 a dozen tornadoes struck the Ohio Valley region and beyond, to 13 additional states from Arkansas to Vermont, with a ferocity rarely seen then, or; until recently; since. Over 700 deaths resulted from the flooding and the storms which followed. Blizzards in the Midwest also complicated matters, with the resultant melting snow swelling the banks of the Mississippi at the rate of 1 foot per hour the following month, as the snows melted. Of course, this water could not be used to drink, or cook with, until it had been boiled.

And speaking of fire to boil water; there were fires raging everywhere as gas lines ruptured and whole sections of towns burned while standing in the midst of water. There was simply no way to pump water on the fires to extinguish them.

Livestock perished; whole downtown areas of major cities such as Dayton, Ohio were completely submerged; and people walked across rooftops, on telephone wires, makeshift rafts, and any way in which they could get around in order to gather whatever food they could find.

Communications were still in the age of telephone and telegraph wires, which, strung on poles, did not do much good as the poles snapped like matchsticks in the fierce winds, as well as under the weight of accumulated ice. Hard to believe; but in many areas of the country today; that scenario has not changed one bit.

Train service was non-existent in many of the states hit hardest by the flooding as bridges collapsed under; or were simply washed away; by the torrents of water cascading beneath them. So many of the stories told in this book could have been taken from the newspapers of the last few weeks, that it simply boggles the mind.
Some folks will use this book as an argument against the existence of global warming, and they are; of course; welcome to their opinion. But the most important thing about this book is the complacency shown by so many of the victims of the Great Flood of 1913, and the sheer unpreparedness of the nation to cope with that disaster. The reason that it is so important is that not much has changed in the way disasters are handled today, 100 years after the Great Flood depicted so accurately in this book by Geoff Williams.

Using every available means at his disposal; newspaper articles, diary entries, old letters, and interviews with people who experienced the event; he has given life to what was the most widespread flood in the history of America. In doing so, he has also exposed some of the weaknesses still inherent in our national preparedness for disasters of this magnitude; which seem to be occurring more often than ever. This is a timely and well written book.

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