I pulled off the river again Friday night. Rain clouds moved north and have settled over western Kentucky and Illinois. Four to eight inches of rain fell in the last 48 hours and more is expected between now and Wednesday night. Here on the lower Ohio floods may exceed record levels. Waiting out the crest I’ve been visiting my family a few hours from where my boat waits in Uniontown, KY.
April 22, 2011
For several days my weather radio has repeated–The regional weather is forecasted to remain unsettled. And unsettled it has become. Much of the last two weeks I have been hit with quick moving storms that leave behind calm, brilliantly sunny days. But this newest system has a different temperament. Large rainfall amounts and frequent storms are predicted to hammer this region well into next week, pushing the powerful Ohio higher above flood stage and further out into into the low-lying bottomlands. Near Mt. Vernon, IN the river was only feet away from toxic railway cars. In some places yesterday the nearest dry ground sat over 3 miles from the normal riverbanks. Flooded tree tops indicated islands and rows of powerlines and roof tops suggested normally inhabited areas.
I was taking advantage of the first calm day since last weekend and hoped to push into Illinois and the last lock and dam pool on the Ohio. But by late afternoon clouds were inching ever closer and the winds had increased substantially. The prospect of a long wait at the lock finally convinced me to pull off into the small town of Uniontown, KY. The 1,100 inhabitants of Uniontown are sandwiched between floodwalls, a grain depot, farm fields, and coal mines–one of which has a conveyor belt that brings underground coal nearly 12 miles down to barges on the river. The harbor and the bottoms around Uniontown are blanketed by deep muddy waters that have inundated oil wells, giving the region a demeanor more suggestive of the gulf coast.
With so much of the bottomlands flooded and the prospect of five more days of rain I wandered into the local grocery store to inquire about a temporary home for the Out of Eden and I. Someone at the check out counter paused for a minute then made a telephone call that quickly resulted in me being offered the use of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue center for as long as I needed it. Soon I was brought home to dinner and around town to meet the mayor. And throughout today I have entertained kids and neighbors who want to take a look at the boat and the one crazy enough to be out in the treacherous river.
Like so many towns on the river Uniontown opened itself to a stranger in a way I could never have imagined. Finding so many who care for the river, their land, and their fellow humans–whether they be an off shift miner out turkey hunting, a fisherman waiting for the water to drop, or a kayaker looking for shelter–gives me hope for this watershed.