Friday, September 2, 2011

Hurricane Irene in Lambertville: How it Went

Here's how the hurricane went in our little town.

As regards our private lives, in the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that Harold, my spouse, grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and knows from hurricanes. It's a rare year when they don't get a tropical storm coming on shore there. So he was an anchor of calm in the wish-wash of uncertainty and fright. I bid goodnight on Saturday to Jim Cantore as he stood on the Battery predicting disaster and laid an untroubled head on my pillow, there to fall asleep lulled by the pleasant sound of wind and rain.

But the public life of Lambertville was going nuts even as we slept.

In the morning the electricity was off. This meant, first of all, no coffee. Secondly, no news. No TV, no internet, nobody in the family had an Iphone or even a battery-operated radio. Church had already been called off, a first in the history of St. Andrews, as far as I'm aware, and there were other inconveniences, other wants, but no coffee and no news were the worst. What of Jim Cantore? Was he standing there still, the water now up to his chin? What of the threatening Delaware River? What of our little town of Lambertville?

Eventually we suited up and went out in the rain and gusty wind, careful not to stand under trees. We looked at the Delaware, high, fast, and full of tree limbs, where the ducks were struggling not to be swept clear down to Trenton. Fly, you ducks! Fly! After we saw the river we walked around town. People were standing together in knots, hanging onto their hats and swapping gossip. We stopped and talked to them. They said, "Did you see the boat?"

The Bridge. Note the urn-shaped posts.
At the bridge where Union Street passes over Swan Creek a startling sight met our eyes: a motorboat on a trailer, upended in the middle of the bridge, on the upstream side of which a ten-foot length of the concrete bridge railing was pushed over and broken in pieces. Police had blocked off the street. The old urn-shaped posts and the newer, oatmeal-box-shaped posts were scattered here and there. Apparently a flash flood had come down the creek, sending debris-filled water into the city parking lot and up the sides of people's houses. High water marks could be seen.

No journalists were anywhere in evidence. As a result, exactly what happened there may never be known. As we continued to wander around in the rain talking to people we heard many accounts of the event, most involving greater or lesser degrees of incompetence on the part of the water company and various city officials. It was generally agreed that a four-foot wall of water had come down Swan Creek from the city reservoir, looming above us, confined by an earthen dam. Either water was released from the reservoir to ease pressure on the dam, thereby saving the city from the much worse fate of a burst dam, or water somehow spontaneously erupted from the reservoir as a result of the heavy rain, or incompetent water company minions lost control of a controlled release. People in the streets screamed and ran. "What were they doing in the streets at one-thirty in the morning in the middle of a hurricane?" "Screaming and running," was the reply. Many people had to be evacuated from their homes.

The water swept the boat and its trailer out of a yard that backed on the creek and hurled it into the bridge railing, which broke.

And at that point, Jersey Central Power and Light cut off the power and the city of Lambertville went dark, to remain so for three or four days, depending on what part of town you were in. The water went down an hour later, but there were still problems with the power lines.

When daylight came a tourist with New York plates was seen collecting one of the urn-shaped pieces of the bridge railing and putting it in his car. If ever you wonder why the locals here are sometimes hostile to tourists, this is the sort of behavior that brings it on.

I would love to see this story covered in a newspaper, just like they used to do in the old days. I would love to hear the thump of a newspaper on our porch, open it up, smelling the fresh printer's ink, and read a cogent account of the Swan Creek flood. But it isn't going to happen. In a few months we may read that some of the irate residents are suing the city, or the water company; houses got water in them that never had water before. It must be somebody's fault.

As for us, we remain dry, and hope you are the same.

Kate Gallison


  1. Kate, you cetainly made me feel I was right there with you - every foot of water and rain... Thelma

  2. Kate, I will be on the lookout for that urn-shaped post in NYC. I actually own an urn-shaped post. It came with a house I've owned for 25 years. When's the last time a New Yorker stole one? Mine is sitting in the garden with a sun dial on top if it. It keeps pretty good time.

  3. Kate,
    Haven't heard a peep about your 'urn-shaped post' from my many sources in the City. Not surprised, either: expect the thief lifted that NY plate from another car and slapped on that getaway vehicle observed at the scene. SOP (Didn't you see Matt Damon do it in 'The Bourne Supremacy'?)

  4. I only report the rumors as I hear 'em. Usually our stuff is carried away by antique dealers.

  5. We have some of those in New York State!