Daily Illuminator

November 12, 2013: Coming Up For Air

Since Halloween, my days have been pretty much alike: get up, move some things out of the house, throw other things away, repeat until midnight, go to bed. Thanks to the generosity of a friend who lives a few minutes from my office (AND my ex-home AND the storage unit), I have a place to stay that minimizes commute.

This flood will be talked about for a long time, in a lot of ways. The city knew it was coming and spent some of its own money to buy out houses in the floodplain. And if that had not happened, there would have been many more flooded homes and, I'm sure, even more loss of life. But they asked for federal money, and didn't get it due to the various budget issues deadlocking Washington. Which left a lot of houses listed in their plan but not actually bought . . . and, frankly, their plan was naive, pinchpenny, and made no provision for hundreds of houses, even closer to the creek, that had flooded just a few years ago. But, again, no federal money showed up.

And then, as far as anyone can tell, the city just went into "Oh, well, we'll get to it when we can" mode. Certainly that was exactly the answer they gave when asked for progress reports. Mother Nature struck first and people died. And it appears that the city's initial emergency response was slowed, despite many 911 calls, because the electronic flood gauge for the area was showing nothing abnormal. It had been completely swept away, and apparently "no signal" was interpreted as "normal." I hope THAT gets fixed . . . But a lot of questions will be asked about why the city thought "no money from the feds" somehow made the whole problem less pressing.

After that rocky start, the Austin Police Department did a great job of pulling people (including me) out of chest-deep water or off cars and roofs. Shelters were set up – fortunately, I didn't need a place to stay. I hiked down the other side of the hill from the assembly point, and, Monica (who was working very late and therefore not at home when the flood hit her house) took me to the office, which was a clean, dry base of normality. By the time it was fully daylight, it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies and no sign that a few miles away the "creek" had gone 41 feet out of its banks and destroyed several neighborhoods. And I was on the phone making arrangements for a very changed life . . .

Escape! The image is looking backward from the rescue boat. We're putting along, several feet above what used to be the major street into the neighborhood. The phone lines will give you some idea of the water depth. The light behind us is another boat, steadily catching up because the one I was on had engine problems. After taking this picture, my iPhone went into hibernation. It was days before it dried out enough to work again (silica gel helped) but now it seems fine. And it was out of warranty already . . .

Other groups that provided aid after the flood included (of course) the American Red Cross and the LDS; volunteer groups from Home Depot and many local churches; the city trash crews who had huge skips in the area as soon as the streets were opened, and emptied them over and over; and a lot of "just plain folks" who came by to help. I'm sure I am neglecting some important volunteer groups, because there were many. There were also, of course, the swarms of TV crews . . . and the legitimate disaster-recovery companies . . . and the sketchy guys who don't have a business card but really want to tell you how much you can save with their "honest, family-owned business" . . . and the speculators offering Cash for Houses in Any Condition! And today I saw my first freelance photographer. I think they emerge from the mud after about a week, like crocuses but not as pretty. He was walking down the nearly-deserted street, striking dramatic crouchy poses, and (I assume) snapping shot after shot. I really wanted to tell him about unipods.

The SJ Games staff is doing a wonderful job of keeping the show on the road without me. I hope to come up for air next week and take a few days of relative normality at BGGcon.

Thanks again to everyone who has offered good wishes and help. There's really nothing to do here and now except pack boxes and put them on shelves, and I've gotten assistance from some of the staff here, from LEGO friends in Austin, and by a couple of great guys who are regulars at Wonko's (the game store next to the Ogre Logistics Facility). There is no need for a Steve Relief Fund. A lot of my neighbors could use help, and so could millions of people in the Philippines who got hit by a typhoon that was a lot worse than our little 41-foot flood. So I'd say: if you are around Austin, donate to one of the Onion Creek funds or just come out and help people, and if you are anyplace else, support a group that is working in the Philippines. Like the Red Cross, or the LDS, or the U.S. Marines.

At some point, I really will get back to making some new games.

-- Steve Jackson


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