Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another human interest story arising from recent storms in the South

The dateline is De Valls Bluff, Arkansas, population 672, and James Card's New York Times front-page story is headlined "Neighbors 1, the Elements 0 (For Now)." It's another in a string of feel-good stories associated with the tornadoes and flooding that have struck the nation's mid-section and southern reaches in recent weeks. Here's an excerpt:

Floods were drowning huge parts of the Midwest and the South, but the residents of Prairie County had decided that Russell Petty’s house, at least, would stay dry — even if they needed flat-bottom boats to get to it.

They fortified a moat and a levee, protective rings around the three-acre property that, once the nearby White River had crested, left Mr. Petty’s house out of harm’s way, like a castle in the English countryside. It stands as a symbol of one minor victory over the elements in a region suffering widespread hardships from tornadoes and floods.

This quote from one of Mr. Petty's neighbors, William Saul, illustrates the paradox of rural community--the tension between stoicism and pride in self-reliance on the one hand, and the generosity and selflessness of rural neighbors on the other.

“I don’t think he wanted to put other people in the position of having to help him that way. He just didn’t have a choice.”

Mr. Petty is an auto-mechanic, and he and his wife have no flood insurance. In spite of the headline, the story makes clear that the Pettys' friends and nearby neighbors were not the only ones who helped. Many in the community, including a Czech exchange student, also contributed to the effort.

De Valls Bluff is a county seat of Prairie County, population 8,776. The other county seat is Des Arc, population 1,867. The De Valls Bluff school closed in 2006 because of declining enrollment. The old school gymnasium is now being used as a place to house and feed those who have been forced from their home by the floods.

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