Sunday, September 3, 2017

On Hurricane Harvey And Paddleboards

I watched in horror this week as “Harvey” turned from a hurricane into one of most devastating natural catastrophes to hit the U.S. Amid all of the destruction, however, were many acts of bravery. What warmed my heart was this paddleboard rescue. To me, the boarder symbolizes neighbors helping neighbors. I was going to say it symbolized Americans helping their neighbors, but in digging into the story I found out this man is actually a Parisian and moved to Houston only last year!

As a fan of the sport, I could almost see myself out there like this Frenchman, braving the waters on dangerous missions, saving lives.

In Pittsburgh this summer, I headed down the mighty Allegheny River on a paddleboard. I wasn’t there to pull people out of the water, but to enjoy it. We explored the beaches and calm coves of Allegheny Islands State Park, just a few miles upriver of the city, thanks to SurfSUP Adventures. The rowing was tough for me as we paddled against an undertow created by a small dam. Could I really rescue a person, even a small boy, against the worst that Mother Nature could throw me? Floods do occur in Pittsburgh. Over the course of its 250-year history, the city survived 15 severe floods that put downtown under water. However, since flood controls were put into place after the Great Flood in 1926, a 1-in-500-year event, the city has had only two 100-year floods since 1942.

In Paris, we live a stone’s throw away from the Seine River on a flood plain. Last year, we feared the Big One. In June 2016, the Seine rose more than 18 feet above its normal level, but crested without threatening our apartment (see my post about that here). The river’s record high was nearly 27 feet above normal during the devastating floods of 1910. Some say that means we’re long overdue for a 1-in-100 year event, which would probably come up to our first-floor apartment—and disable of the heating and electrical equipment in the basement.

We were assured that our apartment complex was designed to withstand a 1-in-500-year flood event. By contrast, Harvey is being called a 1-in-1000 year event. I can’t imagine either happening, but happen, I’m afraid, it will. These calculations aren’t forecasts, but are statistical averages that experts develop from historical data. But the times and the weather are a’ changing.

In Pittsburgh, my paddleboard was an inflatable version, but felt solid as a rock. I hinted to my husband something about a Christmas gift. I could stow an inflatable board in my tiny place in Paris (if I clean out a few closets). It would be fun to paddle around the Seine once in a while. And who knows, one day I might need to rescue a small child—or myself.

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Rose Marie Burke,  an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

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