Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1977 Johnstown Flood +40

"It was like somebody dropped an atomic bomb on Johnstown."

Today is the anniversary of the Johnstown flood of 1977.

Didn't see that. Got there a few days later to help with clean-up.

That is what I saw: mud. Mud, mud, mud.
Did some of that.
Yeah, man.

That was it! And that is just about precisely the angle I saw it, much closer but right at that angle. That was the supermarket, I didn't remember if it was an A&P, but that was the supermarket I saw with the turkeys outside in the mud, rotting, stinking, flies, sitting on drying mud. What becomes of mud when it dries up? Frigging dust bowl. Choking, eye-burning, rotting-turkey-carrying dust. That was a major health concern. We went into a house checking on people and in that dank, dark, mildew-smelling, silent house an old man came around the corner--Spooked me, I didn't hear him coming--agitated and with a bandage flapping over a hole in his throat. He had had his voicebox removed. Which satisfactorily explained why I didn't hear him. Well...Dust for an old man with a fucking hole in his throat? Jesus Christ. Shoveled out that old man's cellar. We were told to be on the watch-out for snakes. I was.

Somewhere around that A&P (I think) was a movie theater. The marquee advertised the feature as "In Surround Sound," remember Surround Sound? Some thespian indulging in gallows humor had altered the marquee to read "In Mud Around." Liked that.

"Tanneryville Girl." Thirty-nine people lost their lives in Tanneryville, by far the hardest hit area. Eight-four total were killed.

The 1977 flood took the soul of Johnstown. There were lots of people in Johnstown in 1977 who lived through the 1936 flood. FDR visited and ordered public works to make Johnstown flood-free. There were even some, like my grandmother, who remembered the 1889 flood. In every fucking case the experts said, "That was a once in a hundred years storm!" To people who had experienced three in eighty-eight years. People just gave up and moved away. The city never recovered.