IN THE immediate Washington area, in a braced and evacuated slice of Florida and in other parts of the country that saw Floyd brush by with little more than a short-term soaking, the last nine days of the storm did not live up to their advance meteorological billing. But in parts of Virginia and Maryland and walloped strips of North Carolina, lethal floodwaters kept rushing through towns and fields, still threatening a full week later. Early on, the death toll topped 60, making Floyd the most deadly storm since Agnes took 122 lives in 1972.
Could more have been done to protect people and their towns? With all the sophisticated systems that now track and measure storms, nature's twists and turns can be devastatingly defiant. Take Franklin, Va., where normally the Blackwater River would have emptied with little problem into the Nottoway downstream. But the Nottoway was rushing full tilt as well, backing up the Blackwater and turning Franklin into a gigantic reservoir of contaminated water with no place to drain.
Across the interstate trail of Floyd's flooding, the health hazards remain serious, communications lines are still out, food is in short supply and shelters are occupied. In North Carolina, tens of thousands of homes and businesses were flooded, roads wrecked, crops ruined and livestock drowned. Closer to home the elements cut off some communications and power and left around-the-clock repair crews unable to get their equipment even close to ripped lines and battered transformers.
The reports of survival, of heroic rescues and extraordinary generosity are still coming in. Meanwhile in Fairfax, a county rescue team -- barely rested from strenuous work in Turkey -- is doing earthquake duty in Taiwan. However "uneventful" these recent days may have seemed to those in Washington who had expected a more unforgiving storm, they proved cruel elsewhere.