Damage Control

At this moment, many people are concerned about the well-being of the people on the East Coast of the United States and the impact of Hurricane Sandy.   The flooding is severe and the damage extensive.  The physical power of floods is daunting.

As a college student, I spent time in Italy and happened to be in Florence during the flood of November 1966, when the Arno River overflowed and covered the streets nearest the river in thirty feet of water.  We had been staying in a hotel on the corner where the Ponte Vecchio crosses the Arno.  About 5am calls came to our rooms to ask that we assemble in a lobby on the second floor of the hotel.  We were told to evacuate.  Arrangements had been made at a small hotel deeper and somewhat higher in the city, about ten blocks away.  When we walked out of the hotel after that meeting the water was up to our calves.

Establishing ourselves on the third and fourth floors of the little hotel where we would ride out the flood, we watched the water rise.  We helped the owner barricade his first floor entry.  The water careened down the narrow streets and smelled of petroleum.  It became a highway of rolling cars and packages of Italian made goods…sweaters, carved chess sets, leather-bound books.  The barricade we had constructed submitted to the pressure of the water and the first floor of the hotel quickly filled with turbid, turgid water.  Oil slicks laced the surface that was constantly rising in the streets.  The temperature dropped outside and in.  There was no heat or power and heating fuel tanks burst under the pressure of the floodwaters.

This continued into the night and dark morning hours when the flood began to recede.  Then we heard powered inflatable rafts of the various emergency crews make their way in the dark along the streets to see who or what needed rescuing.  Our great concern moved toward the area we had left the morning before.  The Church of Santa Croce and the Uffizi Gallery, close by the Arno, hold many priceless, early Renaissance art treasures.  When it was possible to walk out of the hotel a couple of us made our way to the Arno and up the hill to Piazza Michelangelo to see if we could secure bottles of fresh water and bring them back to our hotel for the residents.

This is when I saw the real defeat of the flood.  The Ponte Vecchio is a beautiful bridge structure of precious shops displaying and selling artisans’ works of gold, marble inlay, wood, leather, etc.  Entire trees now pierced the shops and the works of these craftsmen were in ruins on the bridge road.  But at either end of the bridge piles were forming.  As each citizen, including us at this moment, walked across the bridge, whatever was found was carefully placed in one of the piles for the artisans to return and claim.  This was the Golden Rule in operation.  People were not pocketing or looting.  They were restoring.  The sense of restoration permeated the city.  Strangers were carrying shovels into shops to help the owners dig out from the mud and debris.  The flood had not only failed to dispirit the people of Florence but had brought to the fore their best of heart.

The pressure of the floodwaters did not lead to depression.  Instead, there dawned a new Renaissance of singleness of purpose, love for one’s sense of place, and unselfed love for one another.  We can expect no less of the East Coast.

7 thoughts on “Damage Control

  1. Thanks for reminding us of our duty to stay focused on the good that can and will come out of this.

  2. Rich, your post immediately brought to thought, this verse from Hymn 86

    Thou, Soul, inspiring — give us vision clear,
    Break earth-bound fetters, sweep away the veil,
    Show the new heaven and earth that shall prevail.
    Alleluia! Alleluia!

    Thank you for sharing your experience. It speaks to the struggling hearts of those severely afflicted by flooding waters. It proves the power of Spirit, Soul.

  3. I was in the same study abroad group with Rich and I would like to corroborate what Rich said. It was awe inspiring to see everyone pitching in to clean the city up and to save the cities treasures. I was also impressed that there was no looting in the shops. I know everyone in our group did their part too. I would also like to share one other example of the giving people in the city that impacted our group. There was no food in our hotel and we had not eaten in about 20 hours and had no idea when we would have access to food. I was speaking out my room window with a couple in an apartment building across the street. It came up that we had no food. They lovingly said if we could rig up a system to send it across the street (above the flood waters), they would share something with us. We were able to string together some travel clotheslines and throw it across the street to their 4th story apartment. They sent a small amount of food across the line to us in a mesh bag. So, our group was blessed to have a very small meal that evening.
    I know with everyone’s prayers that the people impacted by Sandy can also have their needs met.

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