Home is where floodwater can’t drive you away
Why do people live there?
Why do people stay?
They are questions that are easy to ask as we watch Hurricane Florence hurl itself against the Carolinas.
They are questions that are hard to answer as you watch people’s lives — maybe not their physical lives, but the lives they have built around homes and schools and jobs — ripped apart by the wind.
They are questions that are asked all the time as we watch disaster attack different areas of the country. Why live in Malibu and be threatened by wildfires and mudslides? Why live in Louisiana at the mercy of water and levees? Why Oklahoma or Kansas where a finger-of-God tornado can literally appear from thin air?
And why along the stretch of Florida up the Eastern seaboard where hurricanes bear down upon you so regularly that their landfall can mark the passage of time? This is where Andrew hit. And Floyd. And Maria.
But just days before Florence’s furious crash into the coast, Southwestern Pennsylvania had its own reminder. We have no stones to throw.
We have our own weather issues. Days of rain culminated in rising rivers, overflowing creeks and impromptu streams. Lawns, parking lots, roads and basements became lakes and ponds.
This isn’t the first time. When you live in a place where rivers spin off one another like spiderwebs, you know what it is to watch the water rise. You know that the ground soaks up like a sponge until it can’t hold any more, and you know where it’s likely to become deep.
The Parkway East doesn’t have a section called the “bathtub” by accident. Park on the Mon Wharf and you want to pay attention to just how high the Monongahela River is. The rolling, hilly topography of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties creates slopes for water to roll down, and valleys for it to accumulate.
These basements have flooded before. These roads have closed before. We know what it is like to clean up after a storm. It will all happen again. Just like it will in California, in Louisiana, in Florida, in the Carolinas.
Weather, after all, isn’t something you can avoid. It happens everywhere, making the devil you know the one you know how to handle.
You can run from a hurricane. You can do it every year. But there are some very practical reasons to not pack it in and leave. It’s not exactly easy to sell a house that’s been ripped apart by Mother Nature. Getting a new job isn’t simple. Exchanging one life for another is never cheap, either, and just because you’d like to move doesn’t mean you can afford it.
But there also are very personal reasons some people stick it out in the face of the problems that would send other people running for the hills. You love the land. You cherish the community. You have family and friends that make this place more than just an address.
The difference between a home and a place you sleep is more than a mortgage. It’s deeper than floodwater. It’s stronger than a gale force wind.
It’s why some Carolina residents will have ignored evacuations and why others will come back as soon as possible to start cleaning up, and why Pennsylvanians still drying out their basements can’t judge.
So why do they stay? Why do we?
Because it’s home. Home is worth fighting for, even if you’re fighting the elements.
Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review’s community engagement editor. You can reach Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org.