Thursday, September 2, 2021

Surviving Agnes in 1972 and Now Ida

I really like our house, except for the minuscule unfinished basement. For decades I’ve lamented its small size, thus the inability to send kids down there to play. But since we put in French drains and a dual sump pump system about 15 years ago, its dryness during even the most extreme storms has been a blessing.

As several of our neighbors dragged soiled and muddy carpets and sundries from their Ida-waterlogged basements, Gilda and I reveled in our good fortune, though we inexplicably must have had several inches of water in our garage which we did not discover until Thursday afternoon by which time the water had receded leaving only telltale watermarks.

Ida was not the first hurricane-inspired drenching we survived. After graduating with an MA in journalism in 1972, I traveled to many newspapers searching for that elusive first job. 

In late June, Gilda and I packed up my Buick Skylark for a trip to Delaware, Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. Riding through northern Delaware we drove in and out of torrential downpours so thick that sometimes we had to stop the car under an overpass because we couldn’t see out the windshield. After each cloudburst, the sky would brighten.

We plied on, heading towards Harrisburg. It was late in the afternoon when we hit Hershey. We stopped at the Hershey Inn, but the price of a room was way too high for a not yet employed reporter. Everywhere else we looked, however, had no vacancies. 

We were about to swallow our pride and budget and go back to the Hershey Inn when we came across a motel built like an old Victorian home. It had a room, in the basement, next to a steep driveway. Though she was currently renting a basement apartment in Brooklyn, Gilda had no desire to spend the night underground, so we pushed on, fortuitously discovering the newly opened Milton Motel sitting on a slight bluff less than half a mile away. 

We took a room, ate dinner at a nearby restaurant, went to bed and slept right through Hurricane Agnes which at the time was considered to have caused the worst flooding in U.S. history.

On both sides of the Milton Motel roads were impassable beyond half a mile, and remained that way for more than a day. We weren’t too inconvenienced. We played cards. As the motel still had power, we watched some TV. And we had our choice of restaurants, a fast food hamburger joint to the right of the motel, a fried chicken place to the left. Only one thing kept us from fully enjoying the experience. Within our arc of comfort lay the Victorian-style motel, now submerged in water up to the second floor! Not being a swimmer, I shuttered to think what I would have done if water had gushed into our basement room.

In recent days, floods have killed scores of people including some in the New York area who drowned in their basements. Had it not been for Gilda’s reluctance to spend another night below grade, I, we, might not be here today, 49 years later.

Favorite Films of Challenges of Nature:


The Wizard of Oz

The Hurricane (1937)

The Good Earth

The Grapes of Wrath

The Gold Rush

The Ten Commandments

The Day After Tomorrow

Into the White

The Wind (1928)

The Perfect Storm