Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Great Molasses Disaster of 1919

Well, I promised yesterday that I would tell you about this!

We got a book from the library once, about Disasters. You know, the San Francisco Earthquake. The hurricane early in the 20th century that took the lives of thousands and thousands in Texas. (could you imagine living without the Weather Channel and radar???) The Johnstown Flood. But they pale next to The Great Molasses Disaster of 1919.

You can read about it here. I'll wait while you read about it.

My first thought, after reading it, was to, for once, thank God for OSHA and all of the government agencies that, though we hate their interference, do actually give us a measure of safety. The huge tank (holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses ) had never been tested to make sure that it would hold.

The molasses ran five feet deep through the streets. Horses and humans were stuck. I wondered how the rescue workers made their way through the mess.

But my biggest wonder was, How did they clean the mess up? I could really identify with one statement the book made: Many basements were filled to the top with the stuff.


When we read the book, we had just cleaned up from our second basement flood. The first had happened a couple of years prior. I don't remember exactly what happened, but there had been a few inches of water. We threw out tons of stuff. Two of my boys slept down there, so we made a project of getting stuff off the floor--nothing stored on the bottom shelf of the several sets of shelves down there. I was planning to store fabric in one of the rooms, so transferred all of it to rubbermaid tubs.

We had a terrific rainstorm one night a couple of years later. Eight inches fell in a few hours. The weatherman said it was "train-ing"--imagine the storm running along a track, and when it reached the end of the track, it "jumped," and went back to the beginning and started over, and over, and over.

We didn't flood because of over-running creeks, or whatever. The sewers backed up. Recently the EPA ( grrrr) had mandated that all water (and sewage) must run through the same sewers, which go to the treatment plant. Our city had had a system of storm sewers, which caught the rain water and sent it directly to the river. (gee, sounds reasonable to me. I mean, I learned the Water Cycle in grade school...) But, no, they had to close those, and everything went down the sanitary sewers.

We live in the section of the city which has the second-oldest sewers. I don't know when they were installed, but the oldest set of sewers was pre-Civil War. So, guess what? The sewers weren't able to handle the "train -ing" storm.

We heard sounds of water in the basement. When I went down the stairs, I saw a Geyser coming out of the basement drain, and an old toilet, as well. (I didn't even know the toilet was still sitting on sewer pipe...) Water was covering the second lowest step (eventually topping off at about two feet), and was up to the top of the bottom bunk mattress.

I learned several things in the aftermath:

1) If you overlook a box of books from the first flood, but find it after the second, don't open it. C-L-O-U-D-S of mold spores will POOF out at you. I don't suffer from allergies, but that one made me sick.

2) Rubbermaid tubs will not protect your possessions if the flood tosses them around so that their lids come off.

3) I don't know if there is anything in the known universe that is as heavy as a mattress soaked through with water. Two hefty teen boys almost gave up a number of times before they wrestled that bad boy up the stairs and out to the trash pile.

Bad as it was, the water receded, leaving a Big Cleanup. But at least it wasn't Molasses.

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