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Water

In the summer of '93, the midwest was innundated with rain and floods. In Des Moines, the rivers burst their banks and, despite desperate sandbagging efforts, the water works were flooded, contaminating the entire city's water supply. The system had to be shut off and cleaned out. It was two weeks before the city had water again.

When this happened, my family was preparing to move abroad for the year, to Venice. My mother and sister had already left, a week or so before, while my father and I stayed behind to do the last bit of cleaning and preparing. I was on a different ticket than everyone else since I was going to Venice for a few months, then flying back to the US to start my undergraduate degree. The floods happened a few days before I left and a week before my father was due to leave. The streets in the low-lying parts of the city were flooded. We went down to watch in the bright sun of the following day as residents rowed boats in to see if they could salvage possessions from the six-foot-deep flooding drowing out their houses. We were travelling from one flooded city to another, but the one we were going to was built around it; Des Moines wasn't. Friends who lived in the one major suburb with its own water supply offered us showers, which we gratefully accepted. All sorts of generous societies and companies trucked in bottled water for the city to drink. We finished packing the house by candlelight.

These days, the water works back in Des Moines are very well fortified against any possible floods. By one major creek, there's a street-wide guillotine-like device over one intersection that will keep businesses from being flooded by the creek the next time it happens. Flooding isn't likely to do in the city's water supply again; it's going to be very cautious after those two interminably dry weeks in the middle of summer heat.

But there's more than one way for water supplies to go wrong, and as of a few hours ago, most of Des Moines is again without water. A major water main broke back home and there's no water in my neighborhood. It's major local news, but this time the outage shouldn't last very long. It's a localized problem, albeit one affecting most of the city. In one of those strange coincidences though, my mother left a week or two before this happened - to go back to Venice.