Of course an unmoored barge was pinned beneath one of Philadelphia’s prime pieces of interstate highway on Wednesday.
Of course this happened because a tropical storm of biblical wrath had, the day before, turned suburban yards into whitewater rapids, and sent tornadoes tearing through Shore points.
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It’s all, officially, topsy-turvy: 2020 is a year so twisted, so out of whack, so impossibly insane and becoming more so with each passing day, that we may be forgiven for thinking we are losing our marbles with every new, unwelcome calamity.
We are not hallucinating. I think.
Also really happening: the coronavirus pandemic; political and social unrest on a massive scale; mass unemployment; no hugs for Grandma for fear of killing her with COVID-19; no vaccine for the disease that has killed more than 150,000 Americans since March; little to no in-person school for millions of children as autumn nears, due to said disease; no idea how parents will stay employed or keep their kids from rotting on the couch while, it is hoped, all remain alive; a presidential election in which the incumbent appears unwilling, should he lose, to vacate the premises.
So much adventure. And all just an appetizer for the whopper that came Tuesday.
THE STORM: Isaias rolled up the Atlantic Coast and woke us up at 7:30 or so in the morning with tornado warnings.
We rushed to our basements as skies turned a greenish hue.
Then came the deluge.
The heavens tore open and dumped unholy quantities of water onto the Pennsylvania suburbs, which were the worst hit by the wet part of this brutal storm. In South Jersey, the winds were the worst; at the Shore, power went out on vacationers, and even some tornadoes made devastating appearances.
Flooding followed, even as the sun tried to whitewash previously ferocious skies with a sudden, flashy, bright late-afternoon change of mood.
THE BARGE: So yeah. Then the barge thing happened. I did a triple take after first spying the unbelievable Twitter dispatch Tuesday night.
A barge on the Schuylkill got loose in the torrent unleashed by the storm. It came to a rest apparently wedged beneath the I-676 highway overpass that threads straight down Vine Street and past all the shiny high-rises of downtown Philadelphia.
The highway was closed Wednesday as officials tried to figure out if the overpass was structurally safe.
Did I mention the rainfall totals that caused the Schuylkill to be so unbridled?
NOAH WOULD BE LIKE, “WHOA!”: Released by the National Weather Service on Wednesday morning, the tallies of destruction brought both comfort (I wasn’t imagining that weather nightmare!) and despair (How long will this real-life nightmare that is 2020 go on? I mean, really?)
Doylestown: 4.34 inches.
West Chester: 6.61 inches.
St. Davids: 7.48 inches.
Collegeville: 8 inches.
Bala Cynwyd: 6.43 inches.
Wynnewood: 8.59 inches.
That Wynnewood rainfall doozy — the highest in our region — corresponds with the amount of water that would produce 9.3 feet of snow in winter.
These are the-gods-are-angry levels of vengeance, on top of our pandemic.
It’s too much.
The barge, at first blush on Twitter, seemed hoax-y. I had to read the early Tweets over and over to believe them. But yep — a real-life barge was stuck under a real-life highway, thanks to the real-life tropical storm that turned people’s real-life homes into straw huts in a monsoon.
As my colleague Will Bunch wearily Tweeted while the wayward vessel continued to capture headlines in the light of day Wednesday: “We are all the unsecured barge on the Schuylkill River.”
I made my way into Center City anyhow. I dialed up my Philly-cabdriver-level street-detour moves (my own internal Waze) and made it into town without coming within a mile of that mess. I parked along a curb in the historic district and headed to a doctor’s appointment.
Even that, though, felt unreal.
Independence Hall, normally a locus of sweat-drenched tourists from around the world this time of year, was instead a ghost town. There were no lines outside awaiting tours. Here, too, months of COVID-19 concerns had taken their toll.
A few hours later on my way back to the car and out of town, I saw a cluster of young moms pushing baby strollers into Washington Square Park. I saw a woman on a towel doing workout squats. A man on a bench in a suit and tie looked utterly out of place in a city whose skyscrapers remain largely empty.
Like I said, topsy-turvy.