The flood of '06

a photo essay, and obligatory traffic rant

North Reading, MA
May 2006

In coming back from a long event (which itself was rainy), I returned into a
disaster.  The area had received something like 8 or 9 inches of rain in two
days, and the pond was rising rapidly.  I barely managed to get home, and that
only via a somewhat circuitous route that still had me driving through some
fairly deep water before I gave up and went around a safer way.  The next day
I grabbed the camera and, during a fortuitous break in the rainfall, went out
for a stroll (or more accurately, a slosh) around the pond.

Each small picture is a clickable link to a larger version.  Use those and
your browser's "back" control to navigate.

The first indication that water levels might have gotten fairly high was this
little piece of swamp water, normally well below the road surface here.

But I've *never* seen the stretch past the pump-house flooded so extensively.
Since this was my straightest path to the rest of the neighborhood, I wrapped
the camera in a ziploc and waded in.  It was about knee-deep by the abandoned
car.  Some people were hanging around the other side and one was trying to wade
back the way I had come, but decided that it was too cold.

The rest of the "usual" low spots were totally inundated too.  Again.  Only
this time, deeper.  The last pic in this group is the bridge over the normal
outflow from the pond, and it's completely overrun, about crotch-deep over
the road.  This had only been about 6 inches deep the previous afternoon, when
I took the chance of driving through it ...  no way that a regular car would
be able to negotiate *any* of this now.

Paul and Kathy are possibly the hardest-hit every time the pond floods, and
said that this is definitely the worst in their 38 years here.  They have
developed an amazing system of sandbags and pumps, along with getting a little
help from the fire department, and have stayed mostly dry all the previous

Note how *dark* the floodwater is.  Ick.

Many other houses were just plain hosed, forcing their residents to evacuate
and wait for the waters to recede.

The pond crept way up into many backyards, floating boats and furniture and
toys and pieces of docks loose.  The second pic is the official boat landing,
ha ha.  You'd want a boat to get *to* it by now.

But I didn't see anyone actually using boats; just a few people playing around
in the floodwater and taking pictures, despite the warnings about overflowing
septics ... well, arguably, I was out there in it too.

Finally I walked out to 28 and up to where the River Skug feeds into the
pond system.  I had *never* seen this bridge with water over it.  There was
a very fast flow to the leftward, out through the guardrail and into the
swamp to the north of the pond -- indicating that a lot of water was still
coming into the system.

Despite the presence of barriers and cones, most drivers were simply going
past them and through the water.  Some adhered to the "slow and steady" school
of thought...

while others went for the "blast through it" strategy.  Which probably soaked
their engines that much more.  What NONE of them appeared to think about was
reasonable following distance, given that any one of them could have stalled
or stopped abruptly at any time.

This idiot in a white SUV approached the edge of the water and then just
floored it, throwing up a *huge* wake as it reached the deep part.  With
that much hydroplaning, it was close to out of control and risked hitting
cars coming the other way.

The heavy flow into the pond area can be clearly seen here, too.

I talked to this Prius driver just before he went in, trying to make him
mindful of the idea of taking high-voltage motors and wiring through deep
water, but he went ahead and forded the torrent.  Well, heck, I had just done
the same in mine the previous day on this same bridge, just in the process of
getting home.  Good thing those connections are well sealed...

This passage was not without certain other hazards, though.  A large sinkhole
had started opening up in the middle of the road, under the water, and cars
were hitting it fairly often.  At the time of this picture it had gotten
about eight inches deep, and totally hidden from oncoming traffic...

and it definitely claimed a few victims in the process.  This poor lady got
*two* flats on her trip through, and shortly after I made sure she was okay
and had help on the way, another guy pulled up ahead of her to change to his
own donut.

Why was it such chaos out here?  Because it was clear that most of the drivers
going through this stuff had *no* consideration for traffic flow, other
drivers, or even their own vehicles.  Not to mention that the road was
technically CLOSED.  I saw many people just come flying into the water, on
their cellphones and without any regard for who might be trying to come the
other way and stay in the shallower flow.  It was a total nightmare
free-for-all.  If drivers weren't forcing each other to use both sides of
the road by being bullheaded, everyone could have at least stayed on the
westernmost lane and avoided the deeper water and the big hole.  But these
SUV and pickup drivers think they're invincible.

Finally I walked down 125 to the "seekrit back escape route", which the DPW
had opened so most of the neighborhood could get vehicles in and out.  And
sometime after I had fought my way through that mucky stretch the previous
day, bottomed something out at least once, and barely clawed my way up the
slippery hill to make it in, the DPW had evidently found the time (amongst
all the other emergencies they were handling!) to come along and dump some
gravel on it to level and improve the surface.

However, this little path opens onto a high-speed state highway, where nobody
expects someone to stop midway along it and dive into the woods.  It's not
much wider than a single car, forcing two-way traffic to arbitrate about who
goes when, which people are notably bad at doing sensibly.

Not to mention the ones who insist on taking the high-risk left turn out
of there, across two lanes of 60mph traffic ...

or trying to whip the hard right to come in, and screwing up the turn and
having to back out toward fast traffic to correct for it.  Some of these
people were causing serious backups in the rush-hour traffic coming north.

In general, most of the behavior I saw here and on the Rt. 28 bridge was
inconsiderate driving raised to a high art.  What the heck happens to peoples'
brains when they get behind the wheel??  I saw plenty of evidence of it
today -- obvious "me first, I'm important, screw everybody else" attitude.  It
was very tempting to stay out here and snap detailed pictures of everyone
taking the risky left or screwing up their turns or generally behaving badly
and then create a "drivers' wall of shame" web site.  They should KNOW BETTER.
Unfortunately, the culture that american society has developed around its
overpowered vehicles and fuel consumption still fosters this kind of crap.

Oddly, The DPW didn't spread gravel up the part that really needed it -- the
steeper mud-slide near the top of the rise, just before the actual road.  This
of course encourages people to take a run at it, risking a head-on with anyone
coming over the hill from the top.  Hopefully anyone using this egress would
realize the hazard and approach it *very* carefully from the neighborhood to
make sure nobody's coming up first.

A couple of days later it cleared, and the water was  s l o w l y  starting
to recede.  The car was still very crapped up from its little off-road
experience -- mud and debris in the brakes and fenderwells.  Rather than
waste good town water cleaning it with a hose, I took it back down to where
the floodwater was still over the road and drove it in a little way.  From
there it was easy to kick-splash in around the wheels and underside and slosh
off the vast majority of the crud.

In the course of my much-needed errands afterward, I stopped by the Rt. 28
bridge again and found that they've blocked it off for real, and have an
operation going to pump the water across to the other side and try to keep
it off the actual road surface.  Presumably this lets repairs be effected
sooner than just waiting for the water to recede.  It was refreshing to
watch people have no choice but to figure out that there are *numerous*
detours available to them to reach the other side.

_H* 060516, 060517