COLLATERAL DAMAGE

18 Mar

COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Louise Annarino
March 18,2012

Watching flood water inundate Hebron, Ohio his week reminded me of the 1959 flood which caused my family’s evacuation from our Newark, Ohio home. Our street lay between the railroad tracks and the Licking River, in a neighborhood where Italian immigrants displaced Germans who had come before them. It was rich in culture, if not in cash.

The Sisters sent us home from school early that morning to be with our families as the water continued to rise and flooding seemed certain. My 12 year old brother Angelo joined other neighborhood men and boys at the levee, filling sandbags to hold the rapidly rising river at bay. It was January, the ground still frozen, and the rain steady. It was cold.

My Mother had put her huge soup pot on the stove and was making enough beef stew to feed half the population of evacuees. She was ready for anyone who was forced to flee and needed shelter until the water receded. Dad called every hour or so to check on us; his restaurant open as an emergency station for local police officers, state highway patrol, National Guardsmen and fire personnel. He would be there throughout the ordeal offering hot coffee and meals to our rescuers.

While Mom hummed and cooked I packed every suitcase or satchel with clothes for my three brothers. I layered 6 year old Michael in every item I could fit over him, sat him on the couch with a few toys and told him to be ready to put on his coat because we would be leaving soon. I packed six month old Johnny’s diaper bag, dressed him in several layers, and prepared extra blankets to wrap him up when they time came. I knew we were leaving because the water was rising all around us; the sand-bagging temporarily safeguarding the few nearest streets.

Mom insisted I was overreacting when I piled every jar of baby food in the cupboard into brown grocery bags. While I was listening to geography on the radio, Mom was listening to the numbers of persons made homeless. It was not clear to either of us, each of us listening so hard, what we must do. I insisted we leave; Mom was determined to stay. Dad had told us the Army Corps of Engineers guy warned him that our entire south-end would be under water and we needed to prepare to leave. So, we prepared. When Mom called to tell the radio announcer she was offering our home as a shelter with plenty of hot food and a place to be warm and dry, she finally understood no one would be coming to our house. As she spoke he aired her information directly to his audience. When he asked her to provide the address for people, she told him and he responded to my satifaction, “Lady, you are in the evacuation area! You need to get out of there as soon as possible.”

Within minutes Angelo ran in announcing the levee was leaking and sure to break open, so everyone was fleeing. Things got serious then. Mom decided Michael still would need a birthday cake on his birthday the next day and began packing flour,sugar,cocoa,butter,eggs and vanilla. She filled containers with water, gathered milk and juice, fruit and vegetables. An Army ‘duck’ was patrolling the street,a soldier shouting from his bullhorn, “everyone, evacuate immediately…IMMEDIATELY!” We were ready, but need transportation. Dad had our only car. Luckily, Dad arrived within minutes, just behind the army personnel who had allowed him permission to enter our sealed-off neighborhood. He ran to the basement, turning off the gas, water and electric to avoid potential fire or explosion as water began rising in the basement. We were not able to put all we had packed into the car. Dad quickly prioritized food and water, baby supplies, the many layers of clothes we were wearing, and extra blankets. We were each allowed a pillow, but no toys. My new Shirley Temple doll, the love of my life,was to be left to fend for herself. I was crushed. I cried all the way to Grandpa Annarino’s house, where we would be staying. He lived on some of the highest ground in Newark.

The next day, despite every adult’s protest, but to the delight of us children Michael blew out the candles on his birthday cake. The adults opined it was a waste of precious water and eggs; the kids opined it was the best cake ever. We were safe. Mom and I were contentedly happy women. After dropping us off, Dad had talked his way past the guards telling them he had forgotten to turn off the gas and he would just be in and out.He rescued Shirley and the long leather coat he had recently given Mom as a Christmas gift.

I asked Dad about a report I had heard on the radio that the reason Newark flooded was because the flood gates were opened at Buckeye Lake, allowing the lake water to flood those of us living downstream. Dad explained that the property values around the lakeside were so much higher, the decision was made to flood the poorer neighborhoods near the river, where property values were very low. It was clear to me what was going on. This protected the rich people who had summer homes at the lake, at our expense. We were collateral damage. This was not simply Mother Nature, but politics.

While I watched the people living in Hebron trailer parks, on a low-lying area near the river, drag soaked sofas out into the yard to dry in the sun and shovel mud out their front doors I did not need to ask myself, “Why is it that the poor are always hardest hit?” They are positioned to suffer the brunt of any natural disaster. Their homes are built on land the rich can afford to avoid. They can’t afford rental insurance. They have nowhere to run when things get tough. They cannot afford to hire clean-up companies; they are on their own. They cannot afford to miss work; recovery stretches into weeks, not days. The suffering of the poor is disproportionate to their loss when compared to the loss suffered by insured homeowners, or the rich whose neighborhoods are so well protected.

I am not pointing this out as a declaration of class warfare. I knew from an early age that the well-being of my class was already threatened by those with money and power who would always protect themselves at my expense. I was chosen by the powerful and rich to suffer the possibility of becoming collateral damage. Now what would you call that? While Gingrich, Santorum, Romney and Paul decry the collateral damage caused by American drones they continue to espouse policies which would cause collateral and direct damage on our middle class and on our poor.

Is there a Republican war on women? No, women are merely collateral damage in the war on President Obama and the Democratic Party, Is there a Republican war on immigrants? No, immigrants are merely collateral damage. Is there a Republican war against gays? No, the LGBT community is merely collateral damage. Is there a Republican war against universal health care? No, health care for all is merely collateral damage. Is there a Republican war against labor unions, union and non-union workers, immigrant and female workers? No, workers are merely collateral damage. I think Republicans truly believe this. Some collateral damage to Americans is permitted to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful, and just to destroy the presidency of Barack Obama, who is dedicated to ending the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war here at home against the 99% of Americans.

No more collateral damage, please.

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