June 22, 2013

Don't back up in a flood!

Before we came to Recife, we had heard a lot about the rainy season and all the flooding that takes place.   But last year there was a drought - not a lot of rain, and definitely no flooding.

But - the drought's over!  There's been a few big rain storms so far this year and then we had the really big one.   Big enough for places to close down (including the Consulate) and for people to get stranded (us).

We started for work like any other day, driving up the Boa Viagem with our carpool.  Sure - there was lots of rain and the streets were flooding, but we were in a big SUV and felt pretty safe.   We watched waves of water come along the street.

But then the water got higher.  We noticed that there were cars that were stalling out.  So - we pulled off the road to assess the situation.  We also called in to let folks know we were going to be late. That's when we heard that the Consulate was flooding as well and that a later start time was in place.

We waited about 10 minutes and saw that other cars were making it through the water and decided to try to continue.  We then learned a very critical piece of information that is common knowledge in flood-prone Recife, but that everyone forgets to tell the newcomers.  Whatever you do - don't back up in flood waters! And don't shift out of 1st gear! Because, if you do, water gets sucked into the engine and it just stops.  Which is exactly what happened to us.  As we backed out from where we were parking assessing the situation, the flood waters got into the engine and the car stalled.  There we were, in rising water (high tide was still about 2 hours away).

Luckily for us, we were close to a gas station on higher ground, and there were several fellows making some extra money pushing people's stalled cars to the gas station.

We waited at the gas station for a while - letting folks know we were OK, and hoping that the car engine would dry out.  We learned that people were stranded everywhere.  A friend spent over 4 hours stuck in traffic between the two bridges.  Other folks got halfway to work and ended up waiting at friends apartments.  The few folks who'd managed to get to work before the waters got too high to enter had to deal with flooding issues, including giving people rain checks to come back for their visa interview. Everyone was told to shelter in place and stay safe. There was no way to get anywhere in the city.

We saw people bailing out their cars.

I measured how high the water was with my purple rain boots.

The street was completely flooded and impassable.

Next to the gas station there was a through-way tunnel that allowed cars to get to the other side of a busy street.

The waters in the tunnel got so high folks were swimming in it!

A bus considered driving through - but wisely decided not to risk it.

Since we had no way of going anywhere until the waters subsided, we decided to walk to the nearby mall to wait. At least there we'd be dry and have access to food.  We waited for a break in the rain and then walked to the mall where we waited for the waters to subside and the roads to unclog so we could get home.

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