In this age of constant news and weather reports, I don’t understand why no one seems able to predict 1) earthquakes, and 2) massively heavy rain events unrelated to hurricanes. Lately, I’ve experienced both and I must say, each is rather unnerving. I’m beginning to wonder if the gods are trying to tell me something and I’m just not getting the message?
I. An Earthquake
A few weeks ago my husband and I traveled to Italy for the first time. In August, while planning our trip, we heard about a massive earthquake in central Italy that killed nearly 300 people. It got our attention, but we plotted on. Then, just three days before our departure, another couple of earthquakes rattled the same region. No one was injured, mainly because the area had been evacuated since the initial quake activity. A friend called and jokingly gave me packing tips that included a hard hat, a pickax and a flashlight. Haha, I laughed nervously. We carried on and happily arrived in Florence on Saturday, October 29th, as planned. Following a beautiful Tuscan meal of ravioli, a crisp fall salad and a bottle of Chianti, we strolled past the Duomo to our hotel and collapsed into our comfy bed. 20+ hours of travel had caught up with us. We set our alarm for 7:30 and fell into a sound sleep. All too soon the alarm was ringing. I quickly stifled it, letting my husband get a few more minutes of shut-eye as I mentally planned our day of sightseeing. First, we’d head downstairs for a buffet breakfast, then we’d walk a few blocks to the Uffizi Gallery for a couple of Michelangelos and a DaVinci or two. Then…I felt an odd sensation. The bed seemed to be swaying back and forth. I looked over at my husband to see if he’d suddenly developed a serious case of restless leg syndrome. Nope, he was lightly snoring. Next, I heard glasses in the bathroom clinking in rhythm with the bed. I’d never experienced this before but I knew what was happening. “Bill,” I uttered, “We’re in the middle of an earthquake.” He sat up. “I think you’re right.” I jumped out of bed and looked out the window to see what was happening and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Tourists were walking and pulling luggage, cabs and buses were proceeding down the street. The day was bright and beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. I suddenly realized there wouldn’t be lightning and dark thunderclouds; this wasn’t a weather event. We had experienced an earthquake. Later that evening we watched the news and learned that a 6.5 magnitude quake had struck Norcia, a town in the center of the country, approximately 150 miles away, at 7:41 a.m. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Italy since 1980. Luckily, Florence and Rome were spared and we continued our vacation unimpeded by the shaking of the earth.
II. Flash Floods
Saturday, my husband and I headed down I-10 for a much shorter journey. We planned to drive to Texas City to pack up his mother’s house. We’d arranged for movers who’d be meeting us on Sunday. Just before leaving, I thought to check the weather app on my phone. “Honey, rain is predicted both today and tomorrow,” I helpfully called out. “But not too cold, thankfully.” We tossed our overnight bags into the car, grabbed our cups of coffee and a couple of folding umbrellas. Over the next three and a half hours we drove through drizzle, fog and an occasional hard, but brief rain. We arrived safely on the outskirts of Texas City and stopped at the Budget rental office to pick up a 12′ truck, which we’d reserved to help transport our newly inherited furniture back to San Antonio. After getting the truck, we decided to meet at the local Whataburger for lunch. (This is how we treat ourselves in the midst of difficult tasks.) As I approached the city, I realized the sky had suddenly turned very dark – nighttime dark. The rain picked up to a steady downpour. I stopped at a stoplight and as it turned green the cars in front of me proceeded at a snail’s pace. In an instant, I saw why. The streets had turned into raging rivers, water lapping over the curbs, and rushing in every direction. Cars were stalling right in front of and beside me. It literally happened instantly; so this is why they call it a “flash” flood. One minute I was stopped at an intersection, the next I feared for my safety. I immediately called my husband, who was a mile or so behind me, and tried to explain the situation. “The streets are flooded, they’re like rivers,” I said breathlessly. “I’m going to try to get over into a Shell station across the street.” Driving across those few feet seemed like crossing the mighty Mississippi. I made it. I looked up and saw the Budget truck plowing through the water, across lanes of traffic and pulling safely behind me into the gas station parking lot. We sat there, stunned, watching cars, large and small, try to navigate through the intersection. Amazingly, all patiently waited for the green light before proceeding, then it was a crap shoot to see who’d make it through without stalling out or floating or getting stuck as they pulled toward the “safe” green median. Realizing we’d be here awhile, we left our vehicles and made a dash for a McDonald’s next door. The place was full of stranded, bewildered motorists, all sharing stories of the weather and how they’d ended up here. Then, talk changed to planning how we’d all get out. Luckily, there were plenty of hot fries and burgers to keep us fueled. One poor lady had been headed to the vet with three puppies in her car and she’d been here for three hours! Another young woman approached us and asked if she could follow us home – she was my mother-in-law’s neighbor, and she had some ideas about which roads might be less treacherous. A man helpfully advised us not to slow down or stop in the water, “Keep it at around 28 mph,” he advised, “and try to steer clear of big trucks.” After a couple of hours we bravely soldiered forth. My husband went first, figuring the big truck would create a wake for the two of us to follow. The neighbor went next, her SUV clinging to the Budget’s bumper. I followed, fists clinched on the steering wheel, wipers whipping. We took off through the river/street and back-tracked to higher ground. Eventually, we made it to my mother-in-law’s house. We jumped out of our vehicles and high-fived each other as if we’d just completed a marathon. The rain continued to fall throughout the day. That night, we heard on the news that Texas City was flooded by 11 inches of rainfall – the most rain in that county in two decades. And more was on the way. Thankfully, we made it safely home on Sunday afternoon despite the bad weather.
I’m not sure what message the gods are sending us. Surely not, “You two should stay home for awhile.” I feel like a spoiled child with her fingers in her ears crying, “Lalalala, I can’t hear you!”