Thursday, November 12, 2009

Storm Chaser

At 4 o'clock this afternoon I wandered into a convenience store in lower Gloucester, notebook and pen at the ready, camera in my jacket pocket. Cigarette smoke was adrift from a handful of chain smokers arguing over whether the moon cycle and wind direction were just right to make this one doozy of a flood, while outside the remnants of Hurricane Ida barreled ashore off the Atlantic. Ida would not go gently into the good night. We might get 10 inches of rain here in Gloucester by the time Ida finally wrings herself out. The winds are howling in 6o mile per hour gusts through the trees, shredding American flags flying on teetering poles. And down in the flood zone known as Guinea, fleets of cars and boats and pickups were parked on high ground at churches, a school and a civic club, and sometimes merely choice spots of front yards that lie a few inches higher than the rest of the place. At the Achilles Shopping Center, which is a highfalutin name for what really amounts to nothing more than a gas station, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year country market and obligatory post office, the bottom shelves were emptied in case the water poured in through the front door.

Water is no stranger to these parts. Sometimes a full moon and the right tide can send saltwater up to front steps and across roads. A heavy rain fills ditches to overflowing because there's nowhere for the water to drain. But throw the elements together -- a hard rain, a lashing wind, the right moon cycle and something funky going on out in the Gulf Stream that makes the bay water a foot higher than normal -- and fear seeps through Guinea. The memories of the last big flood are still fresh in Guinea, where houses are being jacked up 10 feet off the ground, six years after torrents of water from Hurricane Isabel burst across the land, wrecking houses and wrecking lives.

The peak of the flood is supposed to hit at high tide tomorrow morning around 6 a.m. At 4:30 this afternoon, the water was pooling over the parking lot; within two hours it would be trickling in the front door when jacked up pickups drove through the lot creating wakes. Inside, a man in a camo ball cap paused between drags of a cigarette and tried to reach his 75-year-old momma by cell phone. The National Guard troops were on their way to get her, the two dogs and a cat that live with her, and he was trying to let her know they were coming for her. He had bailed out earlier, but momma wouldn't budge. Until now, when the water reached the top of her front steps with an hour to go yet until the flood hit its peak. He got a busy signal over and over again. Someone asked him why his momma didn't leave with him. The man shook his head. "She has the faith in the Lord," he said.

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