The spirit of survivalWritten by Karl Rundgren | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After nearly a decade of reporting local news stories, the things that never fail to amaze me are the details I never could have predicted. There was the ice storm where I watched state troopers trying to hike to an accident on a frozen overpass, only to repeatedly slide down the road. There was the house fire where a stockpile of ammunition was hit by the flames, sending bullets flying and firefighters running for cover. Then there was the flooded trailer park where people were frantically running from their homes, carrying in plastic sacks the few possessions they could grab.
I never would have imagined those sacks. In movies, people always have stuffed suitcases, like they were waiting for disaster to strike. But in real life, people grab the first thing they can: grocery bags. I saw those sacks again last week, when I was covering the flooding in Ottawa.
Standing along the waterline, lots of people would wander up with cameras to snap pictures. Some of them lived in the flooded area, while others just wanted to see the devastation firsthand. I can’t blame them. I struggled to convey the true scope of the damage, where entire village blocks had become rivers, and an assortment of things were bobbing around.
While our videographer Barrett was shooting footage for our story, I caught up with Rick Pothost, who paddled a canoe out of the floodwaters to the end of a street. I asked if we could hitch a ride into the deeper water. He politely agreed to take us, so we loaded up and went back out. That’s where I saw things I never could have predicted. People were sitting on their porches, reading books and waving, even though their homes were completely deluged. A man in another boat shouted a warning to us, telling us that the currents were getting dangerous near Second Street. About that time, a large metal dumpster floated past our canoe.
It wasn’t until we got back to dry land that I realized the most unexpected detail of all: the spirit of the people in Ottawa — something that was mirrored in Findlay and the other flooded communities. I expected to see people in a state of rage, lashing out at their misfortune. Sure, people were disappointed, but they were also resolved. Instead of dwelling on the flooding, they were already focusing on how they were going to clean up and bounce back. They knew it was going to be a lengthy, tedious process, and they just wanted to get started.
That spirit has shone several times since my visit to Putnam County. Take the story of the Gilbert family. Their son Eric is a quarterback for the Findlay Trojans. As they were leaving their home, knowing that a flood was on the way, his family made sure to grab his football gear on their way out the door. They didn’t know how bad it was going to be, but they didn’t want to take any chances. It was the best thing they could have done, since they weren’t able to go home before the game on Thursday. Then, on the field, other team members realized they had all done the same thing, and they went on to start their season in Bowling Green.
The Hancock County Fairgrounds were submerged last week, dealing with several feet of water in some places. Still, this weekend the annual event is going on, with some equipment borrowed from nearby Allen County. To an outsider, it might seem silly to focus on a fair while people are trying to recover from a 100-year flood, but the community has made it clear that it’s more than just a fair; it’s a return to order from the chaos of the prior week.
I hope I never find myself in a situation like the people in Findlay and Ottawa, but should I ever be at the mercy of nature, I hope I can take it with the grace, dignity, and determination that I saw to our south. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Karl Rundgren is managing editor and co-anchor of FOX Toledo News.