The 9th Ward of Louisville

My alarm didn’t wake me. The booming thunder, pounding hail and lightning flashes did. It was about 8:40 a.m. and a thunderstorm usually means I can take my time getting to work. A few minutes later I left a message with LEO Weekly’s news editor, Sarah Kelley, about turning in my column via e-mail — but this nasty sucker of a storm wasn’t having that. By 8:55 the power went out. It was then that I noticed the rain was pouring so heavily there was no visibility. Then I heard dripping. Fuck! The basement was quickly flooding from an overflowing sewage drain. I started to panic — do I have flood insurance, what if the whole house floods, who do I call? The Metropolitan Sewer District said the deluge had caused a flash flood, which didn’t appear to be letting up. I felt like I had failed as a homeowner.

Looking outside my door I noticed at the other end of my block my neighbor’s cars were already under water. I ran back inside and packed a bag. I drove around hoping to find an exit out of west Louisville. No such luck. Every thoroughfare I attempted to drive down (Broadway, River Park, Hale, Muhammad Ali, etc.) led to a pool of floodwater. I escaped through Shawnee Park, which had a lake in the basketball courts and playgrounds but saw much of the same. Motorists were driving the wrong way on one-way streets. Those desperate enough to attempt to cross a street that was clearly submerged were stuck and abandoned their vehicles. Reaction to this flash flood was mixed. Pets and stray animals played in the water with innocent children. A few people were crying because their homes were taking water. Many just stood outside.

The exit ramps to Interstate-264 were mostly flooded too, but I found a dry one going eastbound away from west Louisville. It wasn’t an original idea. Traffic was bumper to bumper so I made a U-turn and saw from the freeway’s overpass the pools, lakes and swamps of water that overtook my area of town.

For a community with a myriad of problems it hit me that west Louisville looked eerily similar to the pictures of with Hurricane Katrina. Cell phone calls and text messages from fellow west Louisville residents delivered a similar message. Though this bucket of water that doused Louisville’s West End pales in comparison to the 2005 tragedy that struck New Orleans, the black faces I stared at from my car all spoke the same fear. People wanted to know where to go, worried about spoiled food, had no transportation and felt trapped in inescapable neighborhoods. I had the same worries when the ice storm and windstorm knocked out power, leaving many west Louisville residents waiting outside convenience stores like they were in Depression-era bread lines. Does this community have a emergency plan? Does west Louisville know about it? How prepared are we for a severe natural disaster? How many more times does this shit have to happen before residents get serious?

It is no secret other parts of town have been inconvenienced, shut down and endangered by today’s flash flood. Louisville Metro suffered today not just a single area, but something about this unexpected and unavoidable situation makes me feel like I’m living in a forgotten Ward. Maybe I’m just as frustrated as you are, but more questions need to be asked. They will be.

7 Comments

  1. Attica Scott
    Posted August 4, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Yep, it feels like being cut off during Derby… except worse!

  2. Jeff Noble
    Posted August 4, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you are living in a forgotten ward. You might live in one of the nicer parts of a sometimes forgotten part of town – that is a different issue. But what you and the rest of us experienced was nothing like New Orelans. Nor did you experience anything much different from where I live down in Butchertown or where my brother lives off Hill Street or where my boss lives on Browns Lane. We had 6 inches of rain in 75 minutes, a new record for Louisville. All the preparation in the world would not have helped. And, that’s different from New Orleans. They were forewarned for years that a Katrina would happen sooner or later, but those concerns fell on the deaf ears of several levels of government. My guess is the water in the pictures is for the most part gone. My brother reports two of the three viaducts in Old Louisville are open. Down here in Butchertown, Campbell Street is still closed north of Water Street, but water stands down in there much of the year. That doesn’t change the fact that most of Louisville’s basements took on some water. My garage flooded and everything that was sitting on the floor, including a number of books, are vastly damaged. One thing I noticed. Behind my house and garage is the floodwall. Because the water was rolling so quickly down toward the back of the lot, the floodwall actually prevented it from going on further down to the river, causing the spillback over into the garage. Ah, those best laid plans. West Louisville, like much of southwest Louisville, and parts of Okolona, is built on a vast low-lying plane. At one time most of the South End emptied not into a creek and ultimately into the river, as it does now, but rather many streams led inward to a great swamp known as the Wet Woods, generally located where Standiford Field is now. It wasn’t until the county, recognising a problem, built the Northern and Southern Ditches that Fern Creek (that is the creek named Fern) emptied into another creek, Pond, which then forming the Jefferson/Bullitt line empited into Salt River, the southernmost boundary of Jefferson County. We know the work they did in the early 20th century wasn’t enough; the failure of your neighborhood to drain is proof. Of course, part of the problem is overbuilding and building in places you shouldn’t. Have you ever noticed that bridge in Shawnee Park which leads over an exit to Southwestern Parkway? I think it is at Vermont, or maybe Muhammad Ali. If you look at it, it is obvious the bridge is too big. But, did you know a fork of Paddy’s Run Creek once meandered through west Louisville and run under that bridge? Back then, the waters of Shawnee and Portland drained naturally in either Lower Paddy’s Run or Upper Paddy’s Run. Development, including your area, blocked up those natural courses and all that is left, besides an overworked underground sewer system, are the paved streets with raised yards running along either side. Where would you expect the water to run? Your subdivision’s design forcibly turns streets into rivers. But, again, this was a record setting event. Do you suggest we rebuild the entire system throughout Louisville to prepare for the next record setting event, one even bigger than the 6 inches in 75 minutes we got today? And if so, whose taxes are you going to raise to pay for it?

  3. Mike at The Big Stick
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Comparing this to Katrina? Really? This is why blogging is so dangerous. Snap-judgements that are so far removed from reality that they should never see publication.
    As Jeff points out there was flood damage all over the city. If you want to try and turn this into some kind of weak point about race, I think you should do some surveys of how many white and blacks suffered damage. Maybe get a $$ estimate and compare it to demographic data. Otherwise your comments are irresponsible.

    If you live in a flood-plain and we get 6.5 inches of rain in an hour…you will see flooding. Unless the city has a policy of only allowing blacks and poor people to settle in those specific areas, I think this is a matter of choice and sometimes when people make bad choices they get burned.

    I hear the folks in Buffalo occasionally get 18 inch blizzards. I wonder if it’s a government conspiracy?

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