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Home » SCIENCE AND NATURE » RHODE ISLAND » Rivers are Mighty; Man is Not
Wood River Tops The Guard Rails
Rivers are Mighty; Man is Not

How the March 2010 Flooding of Wood River, Rhode Island Affected Human Behavior

By Nicholas H. Kondon | November 01, 2010

The author, reflects on how in times on catastrophe we see the very best in ourselves.

Many Homes were Caught in the Storm Surge

Our home is on the Wood River in Rhode Island.   On Tuesday, March 30, 2010, the river crested during what people say was a 100 to 500 year flood event.   I’ll say this: it was dramatic.

We were personally spared any damage.   Sadly, that’s something neighbors cannot say.   But an interesting thing happened at the peak of the flooding: not only were the rivers catastrophically beyond capacity, but, so too, were the brooks and creeks.   Sensing that this was their moment, creeks decided to become brooks, and brooks wanted to know what it felt like to be rivers. Henceforth, wherever water drains, the streams and brooks will be talked about for the next hundred years. They all turned in fantastic, frightening, and convincing performances.

Accordingly, once little babbles, and gentle streams, cut roadways, washed out culverts, closed bridges, and rolled up pavement, much as earthquakes are known to do.   But, the more ferocious the flooding, the more gentle the people.

Neighbors and Motorists Come to Each Other's Aid

Cut off from their usual routes home, they became Edisonian, trying one approach after another - and more, they were stopping their cars, rolling down windows and asking, “Where are you trying to get to?” Then information would be cordially exchanged.   “No, you can’t get there that way.   Woodville is cut at two or three places.   Have you tried Collins to Tomaquag to Switch Road?” “I don’t know Collins.” “Oh, I’ll tell you how to get there.” The driver of the automobile behind did not lean on his horn… somehow, he knew the dynamic.

These exchanges of information were a hybrid of strategic cross-pollination, and neighborliness.   Remarkably, people were for the most part in good humor, very good humor.   People driving in opposite directions and crowding for position at some inundation would stop and ask, “Do you think that’s too deep for my car?”

These encounters, in less eventful times, would have had exchanges, too - exchanges punctuated by fingers and profanity.   Why is that? Why does adversity make friends of strangers, and the lack of it make all of us alpha males? Here is my theory: terrible acts - terrorism, earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes - all serve to send a subconscious message to our brains.   The message is: I am small.   Very, very small.   This message that we are insignificant in the overall scheme must override our egos and allow the human in us to be exposed, briefly.   In a few days the water receded, and so too did the message.   By the following Monday we were all big - once again.   Too bad.

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