Friday, June 13, 2008

Uh Oh

Toxic Mold Building lies on the banks of the bucolic Iowa River, which is so bucolic you can often forget there's a river there at all.

Well. I'm sure you know where this is going. Here's the parking lot as of this morning. The river is behind those trees.

On Wednesday morning I was in the office and about to take off to go sandbag in one of the neighborhoods when I ran across one of the English department office staff taking art off the walls. We had been warned to be prepared to evacuate but nothing had been ordered. But surely the water can't come up to the third floor? "Mold," she said. "The building may be shut up in the heat for two months." Boy, was I sorry to be right about my mold prediction, but I still thought she must be overreacting.

Meanwhile our office manager, the lovely and heroic G., was back from an emergency meeting with university administrators and called us into the conference room. There was a 50-50 chance of having to evacuate. E-mails started going out over the next two days, increasingly stern:

Wednesday: Come get anything from your office you'll need, as we may have to evacuate, and the order could come as soon as Friday or Monday.

Thursday morning: You will NEED to be out of your office by Friday at 5:00. The doors will be chain-locked at that time!

Friday morning: The parking lot is now closed due to water. You can only take as many of your possessions as you can remove by hand and carry through the water to wherever you are able to park.

Friday, an hour later, from someone in facilities management who must have gotten wind of the previous e-mail: PLEASE DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WALK/DRIVE/ENTER ANY STANDING WATER! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RETRIEVE ANYTHING IF YOU HAVE TO ENTER STANDING WATER! YOUR SAFETY IS MORE IMPORTANT!

After the flurry of e-mails, the oddest thing, this afternoon, has been the silence afterwards. All the computers have been taken out; no one is in the building to send any more updates.

On Thursday my boss and I packed up the Lit Mag office and put what we needed to run Lit Mag in our cars. This morning (Friday) I went over to Mr. F's building, which is about a block from the river. Their evacuation order was for 5:00 Saturday, when he'd be back in town, and he had said he would take care of it then. But the way things were going, I offered to move things in his office to higher shelves just in case.

When I got to his building the lights were off and people were removing items, not just moving them up. "They're sandbagging buildings up the hill from us," said Mr. F's colleague. "This is gonna be a fish tank." I went to get my car and move it to the loading dock, but by the time I got there the National Guard was no longer letting people down the road to the building. Luckily Mr. F's colleague, a formidable woman, was able to convince the soldiers to let me through.

So I hauled everything I could into the car, and then walked across the way to the main library. "Closing at 5 pm indefinitely," a sign said. I had gotten stuff out of my study carrel Thursday, but I got some more. The computer system was just about to go offline when I renewed the last of my books. One of my professors walked by and made fun of me for renewing books at a time like this.

As I drove home an hour ago with my loaded car, I noticed buildings a half a mile from the river being sandbagged. I don't want to think about that too much.

The thing about a flood, at least in our case, is the anticipation. It all kind of happens in slow motion, except not. The water only rises a few inches an hour, so it's not like you'll be standing next to it and then suddenly be under it. But it sure is inexorable. Rumors have been flying: the water treatment plant is going to fail; we're going to lose power; the bridge upstream is going to collapse and cause a tsunami downstream; etc.

I haven't even mentioned the people in the floodplain who have already lost their homes.

Now I'm at home—high and dry, a mile from the river—and about to jump on my bike and head over to Lit Mag's temporary digs in another department's conference room and deal with the stuff we threw into boxes.

Today is sunny and breezy. The birds are chirping. Looking out my window here at home, I could mistake it for a perfect summer's day.

Poor College Town (a.k.a. Iowa City)!

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