Thursday afternoon I was just coming out of a job interview on the East Side when the rain started. About a week earlier we had a good downpour, and so I suppose I figured that at worst it would be like that storm. In fact, before leaving my interview, which was just a couple blocks from the UWM campus, someone mentioned that there was a tornado warning, but it was for an area out in the far west suburbs, so I wasn't all that concerned about the East Side. Little did I realize then that the rain just starting would turn out to be one of the biggest rainfalls in Milwaukee history.
I was on foot that day, so I ducked into a bus shelter, hoping it would ease up, since I had with me a folder containing my last few copies of my resume, which I had just printed off that morning on good cotton paper. I didn't see a bus going my way, so after a few minutes I decided just to protect my folder the best I could, and start heading down Oakland Avenue. The rainfall was intense, and did not let up until later that night, after I got home. Before I had gone a block I was completely wet, and I mean thoroughly soaked. By the time I got to Oakland Gyros my folder, which I tried to protect by stuffing it into my sock under my pants, was destroyed. So I gave up on that. Since I saw neither the 15 nor the 21 coming, I decided to keep walking, so I headed west, past Riverside High School, and over the river, to Riverwest. Almost every intersection I encountered was under several inches of rushing water. Already, at that early stage in the storm, I saw a vehicle that got stuck in water as the driver tried to back out of a side street that was quickly turning into a small river.
Of course it's no big deal that I got wet. After the heat of the last week or so, it felt good. And the lost print-offs of my resume "don't make much for tragedy" either (to borrow from Springsteen). The resumes can be reprinted, and the New Yorker I was reading can be replaced as well. What this all amounted to for me was really nothing more than an inconvenience. In fact, the situation started to feel comedic. At one point the unrelenting rain just made me laugh. Ruth got home just in time to see the storm from inside the house, so I thank God she was kept safe.
Soon the freeway was closed. It wasn't just the East Side that was affected. Streets were flooded on the South Side, the North Side, the Sherman Park area, and elsewhere, causing cars to stall, and basements to become lakes. A number of houses will be demolished, because the rushing water blew out the basement walls. Parts of Shorewood, along Oakland Ave and environs, was transformed into impassable waterways.
At some points I couldn't cross streets without getting calf deep in the water. When I got home, I wasn't about to walk through our living room in that condition. So just inside the door I divested and doffed, handing Ruth each article of clothing as I proceeded, while she bagged up my clothes. Later that evening we saw the lights in the apartment go dim, and then immediately come back on. This happened a couple of times. Then, all of a sudden, with a loud noise, all the power in the neighborhood went out. I later found out from WE Energies that there were 1851 homes in this neighborhood alone that were affected by the blackout. We were only without power for a few hours. I only hope no one was harmed by the outage.
One of the effects of that rain is that the sewer system was completely overwhelmed, causing backups in basements, especially Downtown and in Shorewood. When it rains hard, our place gets a little water in the basement, but it's not sewage. And our landlord warned us about this ahead of time, so we've got everything up on a couple of wood pallets. The neighborhoods with the real problem, in terms of sewage backing up in basements, also happen to be the parts of the city which have combined sewer lines, a system which makes no sense. Milwaukee really needs to improve its overall sewage system. Obviously, the Deep Tunnel has not eliminated the problem. Basements still get backed up, at least in a couple of neighborhoods, and then, after serious rainstorms, raw sewage gets dumped into the lake. Last week more was dumped into Lake Michigan than oil was spilled by BP. Why it's not a scandal is beyond me.
Oh, and did I mention that the corner of North & Oakland, one of the busiest intersections on the East Side, was transubstantiated into a giant sinkhole, swallowing a traffic light, and a Cadillac Escalade. The driver was rescued, and is safe. In the end, what is now being described as the type of rainstorm that comes along about once per century has left the city with an estimated twenty eight and a half million dollars worth of damage. Today, from the perspective of the street level, not counting the sinkhole (which will reportedly take about six weeks to fix), Milwaukee basically looks like it's back to normal. The damage remains, however, for many families, and businesses. Nicolet High School, for example, was overrun with water. And under the street level, the Deep Tunnel still holds some 370 million gallons of sewage, which means that hopefully we won't get another big rain for a while.
Many homes suffered severe damage, and so the people and families affected are in the prayers of the Church. Overall, however, as a city, we Milwaukeeans can't really complain. It's really not in our cultural genes to complain all that much anyway. In fact, the city is already back to celebrating. Why? Because it's the weekend, of course. GermanFest, the world's largest German festival outside of Germany, is going on at the Summerfest grounds, and on Saturday the Brady Street Festival, one of my favorite festivals, had the Lower East Side more animated than usual.
All things considered, we do tend to have it pretty good here. The past couple of weeks it has been quite hot in Milwaukee, and my flesh, ie., the Old Adam in me, has not liked it. An apartment like ours, with no AC, is hard to keep protected from the heat. Yet I must remind myself that the actual heat wave affected the eastern and southern portions of the country. What we felt here was really only a mild version of what others have had to suffer. And when it comes to storms, besides the towns and areas in this region which have suffered tornadoes, my prayers and concerns are with places like the coastal cities and towns of the Gulf of Mexico, including our friends in New Orleans, where hurricanes threaten at every turn.
So in the grand scheme of things, a wet July isn't all that serious. A serious rainfall reminds me, most of all, that in Christ I am saved from the fires of hell. For by Holy Baptism, by which the sinful flesh is drowned, I am carried along in safety, in the ark of the Church. And when the waters get so fierce that they turn a gutter or a sidewalk into a rushing stream, that perfectly pictures for us the relentless fount of love, which gushes from the side of our crucified Lord.
Benedicite maria et flumina Domino.