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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Just Ask Me ... Reporter's experience with flooded area

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On Saturday, June 7, around 5 a.m., a loud clap of thunder announced the deluge of torrential rains that flooded Clay County and woke me from a wonderfully restful sleep.

At first, I enjoyed the beautiful sounds of the storm and the gentle, cool breeze from my window fan, but then gale force winds forced me to get up and shut the window.

Within seconds my daughter, son and our pet cat were all in my bedroom.

They didn't make a sound, but watching them jump in collective unison as lightning lit up the room and was quickly followed by the sound of thunder rolling through the house like a freight train was enough to know they weren't especially happy about the weather.

After two hours of non-stop rain, there was a raging river of water flowing down the street outside my house.

I looked at my housemate, and fellow reporter, and, without a word, we both knew it was time to go out in the weather.

Our first step off the porch was into water over our ankles. Needless to say, we took his truck instead of my car. My car wouldn't have made it through the water on my street.

We didn't expect to find the streets of Brazil submerged under raging water, neighborhoods and homes flooded, traffic backed up as far as you could see along United States 40 and people outside everywhere taking in the sights.

Now understand, I've learned an odd thing since becoming a reporter for The Brazil Times. For whatever reason they might have, many Clay County residents don't or won't talk to reporters.

For example, a few months ago I was assigned to do what is called a "man on the street" feature.

It sounds like an easy enough task for a reporter to do -- ask four or five people a simple question, write down their answers and take their pictures -- but it's not.

Here was the question, "Are you looking forward to the warm spring weather?"

I stood in a cold parking lot, while it was snowing, of a local business for two hours having 30 people brush me off. None of them would go "on the record" to answer my question and let me take their picture for the paper.

I understand not wanting your picture taken, I don't like my picture taken either, but come on. What are the odds that 30 people in a row would be camera shy?

Apparently, in Clay County: it's pretty darn high!

In the middle of what has been designated a national disaster area, no one wanted to talk about what we were all out gawking at.

I respect that, but it sure makes a reporter's job hard.

Although no one was talking to me as a reporter, in the midst of all the mayhem of the flood people were not only talking to each other, they were helping each other. Acts of kindness were happening all around.

I saw people pushing strangers' stalled cars out of water that was up to their knees.

Interstate-70 motorists, after being trapped for hours in traffic along United States 40, were stopping to let other drivers pull in front of them, local drivers were sharing and shouting directions out their car windows with out-of-towners.

People were picking up trash the waters had picked up and dispersed around town.

More than kindness, there were also acts of respect happening between the public and emergency responders. These men and women were out in the rain for hours helping clear roadways of fallen trees, reporting flooded areas and damaged roads and pulling stranded people from flood waters.

I witnessed people walking out of their way to shake hands with firefighters, law enforcement officers and search and rescue personnel just to say "thanks" for a job well done.

At one intersection late Sunday evening, where an apparently tired and soaking wet police officer was directing traffic, I watched occupants of car after car drive by and wave or yell out "Thank you" as they passed by.

This wasn't exclusive to Brazil, these incidents were happening all around Clay County.

Boat owners in southern Clay County were helping their neighbors get to high ground.

Farmers were using their equipment to build dams in the fight to keep the water away from low areas and pulling people to safety in flooded roads.

Neighbors were helping each other, victims were appreciative of those who were helping them and a community came together.

Although no one wanted to "share their experiences" with the local reporters, I wanted to share mine with you.

In the future, when asked what it was like during the flood of 2008, I will be happy to say I witnessed our community at its best and that I was proud of my fellow Clay County neighbors.