This is going to sound really insensitive. We don’t mean it to be so. It’s something reporters sometimes feel. And in some way or another, you might have similar feelings.
We’re going to miss our disasters.
Back in May and June it seemed were in a disaster du jour mode that had started at the beginning of the year — tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, some pretty good brush fires—they just never seemed to stop.
Every week since late May, the Army Corps of Engineers held conference calls for the media, state and local (and in appropriate states, tribal) officials, members of congress, and other interested parties. Week after week we were on the phone at 5 p.m. every day getting updates on the flood fight. Several weeks ago the Corps cut the calls to two a week. Last Thursday was the last one.
The voices became familiar ones to us and we’re going to kind of miss hearing them–Brigadier General John McMahon, the Commander of the Northwest Division of the Corps of Engineers, and the downstream Colonels in charge of the districts that manage the river, Bob Ruch in Omaha and Tony Hoffman in Kansas City; Water Management Division Chief Jody Farhat, Emergency Management Branch Chief Jud Kneuven, Tony Mangan at KCCR in Pierre, SD, as well as spokesmen for the Iowa and Missouri Departments of Transportation.
These calls gave us a greater understanding of how the upstream reservoir system works and how nature reminds us from time to time that we can only try to manage what it does, not control what it does. Imagine a shot glass inside a coffee cup inside a cereal bowl inside a big popcorn bowl inside a sink. The shot glass can hold some water but when it reaches capacity, the water spills into the cup, which holds more water until it is full and water spills into a cereal bowl, which overflows into a popcorn bowl that eventually overflows into a sink when the bowl can’t hold anymore. Only when there’s so much water that the sink can’t hold anymore does the floor get wet. This year some of the floor got wet because nature provided so much melting snow and rain that all of the glasses, cups, bowls, and the sink couldn’t store all the water.
That’s never happened before and because it hasn’t, a lot of politicians are saying what the Corps of Engineers realizes: a new standard has been established in planning for worst-case scenarios. Some political attitudes appear to have changed, too. The decades long fight between downstream states like Missouri with upstream states like the Dakotas over water retention in the upstream reservoirs for recreation versus water levels downstream for navigation seem less important than the prime directive the Corps has had for a long time–flood control on the Missouri River.
The National Weather Service signaled the end of the Great Missouri River Flood of 2011 Saturday when he put out a message on Twitter: “Last flood warning has been cancelled for the MO River at St. Joseph (201 days later). Warnings cont. for Rulo through Sunday.” Rulo, Nebraska is just across the river from a rural corner of northwest Missouri. In other words, the river is back in its banks although thousands of acres remain under water. The flood is done.
We have found disasters sometimes leave a strange kind of pride in the minds of victims as well as those who have been bystanders. Flood victims in southeast Missouri and tornado victims in Joplin, Sedalia, Brentwood, and eastern Missouri areas feel a certain ownership to their disasters. And there’s a certain resentment–c’mon now, admit it—when some other part of the country has one that gets headlines. Fires in Texas and New Mexico? You oughta see what the floods did to us in the Mississippi River Floodway in southeast Missouri. Hurricane Irene hits New England? That’s nothin’ compared to what we got in Joplin. An oil spill in the Gulf? Come to northwest Missouri and southwest Iowa and we’ll show you a disaster!!!
And it would be completely understandable if those who own their disasters in Missouri this year are more than a little angry that some politicians in Washington are making their misery some kind of political game.
Talk about insensitive.