Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"We Saved This City"

March 1982.  Fort Wayne, Indiana.  The city was facing a flood the likes of which had been seen only way back in 1913.

You may be wondering why I would bring this up 29 years later.  Well, the other day my mom handed me a booklet that had many photos and text put out by the Fort Wayne News Sentinel that reminisced about the Flood of 82.  Ad the memories came flooding back . . . This is what happened way back when.

I was a junior in high school.  We had had a hard winter with lots of snow, a very quick thaw, and rain.  Living in a city with three rivers, we knew that meant one thing--flooding.

Now usually when the city flooded, it wasn't so bad, but this time was different.  A flood emergency was declared, and Fort Wayne Community Schools closed schools.  A crisis was coming our way.  Mayor Win Moses urged people to volunteer to sandbag, especially high school students since they were out of school anyway.

My friends and I decided we would be part of the sandbagging effort.  It would be fun, we thought.  We could do some good and have some fun together.  After all, what were we going to do?  We were out of school and much of the city was closed down due to the threat of flooding.  We decided to band together and go do some sandbagging.  We were young and had no idea what we were up against.

We carpooled together to the Coliseum which was Sandbag Central.  Once inside, the people in charge of the flood control told us we could fill sandbags inside the Coliseum, or we could go down to the flood zone and sandbag.  We decided we wanted to sandbag.

School buses got loaded, and we were off.  Down into the heart of the city we went.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  This was my former neighborhood, the area of the city I had grown up in, the junior high I was supposed to attend before my family moved.  Now, the area behind Lakeside Junior High looked like one of the Great Lakes.  All that was holding back all of that water was God and sandbags.

Once we got off the buses, my friends and I were assigned spots to work.  We were put to work on different sandbag assembly lines behind people's houses.  Grab, pass, grab, pass, grab, pass . . . this process went on and on and on.

I don't know how long we were down there.  All I remember is that people came out of their houses to thank us for saving their homes.  Volunteers came around to feed us.  They gave us pudding cups, but they had no spoons.  We didn't care.  We were so hungry that we gobbled that pudding down in whatever way we could.

Back to the front lines again.  Grab, pass, grab, pass . . . I didn't know I had so much strength.  Damn, those sandbags were heavy.  But we knew people's houses, and lives, were on the line, so we kept at it.  At one point, the officials told us that the Pemberton Dike, where we were sandbagging, was going to go, but we kept sandbagging.  We could keep that water at bay, we were sure of it.  We were teenagers, so we weren't afraid.  Nothing bad was going to happen to us.  We kept at it even with the threat of the dike giving way.

I don't know how long we were there, but finally it was determined that we were done.  It was time for another shift to take over.  We loaded our exhausted, filthy bodies back onto the school buses and rode back to the Coliseum.

Once home, all I had the energy to do was to get a shower and then fall into bed.  My body hurt and I was exhausted.  I fell into a deep sleep.  Some of my friends were courageous enough to go back and sandbag more that night.

In the end, the kids of Fort Wayne saved the city.

I wonder if that kind of flooding were to occur now what would happen.  Would the kids of this day and age step up to the plate and work their asses off to save their city?  Or would they stay home and read about it on their IPads and text their friends about what was going on. Would their parents be too scared to let them take the risks that we took?  Maybe the city wouldn't even let them help out because of the threat of lawsuits if someone would happen to get hurt.  The school system might not even cancel classes because of the need to get in their quota of instructional days.  I don't know what would happen now.  I would hope that teenagers would have the opportunity to be heroes like we were back in 1982.

If you are a Fort Wayne native and have memories of the Flood of 82, post your memories.  I would love to hear them!

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