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Swept away – Nature centered literary works

Swept away - Nature centered literary works and Global issue Environment and conservation.

Swept away:

– Susannah Hickling

“Come on, We’ve got to get out of here now”, Serge urged his partner Celine. Flood water that had poured into their little terraced home was already 30 centimetres deep and rising. The couple had lifted the sofa onto the dining table and stacked as many other possessions as they could out of the reach of the filthy water. It was 2:15 pm on Monday, September 22, 2003 and the small town of Lunel in southern France had been battered by violent storms since mid-morning.

Council worker Serge, 43 and 32-year old Celine, a home help, had lived most of their lives in Lunel which stands only a few metres above sea level. The flat, marshy area, floods frequently. This was the second time in just over a year that the couple had found the home invaded by water.

Serge and Celine stepped out into the street, now a fast-flowing thigh-high river. They waded across the road and Celine stepped over a low hedge which separated the street from the pavement. Serge was following close behind when he saw Celine fall. In an instant she had disappeared below the water.

She’s dead, he thought. It’s all over. All they’ll find is her body later. Celine felt herself being pulled under the water. Instinctively, she reached up for Serge’s hand. She felt his grasp but her relief was short-lived as his hand slipped away.

She couldn’t understand what was happening. She was being swept along underwater, helpless and swallowing mouthfuls of the filthy liquid. She couldn’t breathe. “I’m going to die”, she thought. “I’m drowning. There’s no way I can survive this”. Then she found that she could breathe again. In the dim light, she could see that she was about ten metres from the manhole through which she had plunged, but the current made it impossible to swim back.

She was in a two-metre wide concrete storm drain which was almost completely filled with water and it was still rising. Across the drain stretched a small plastic pipe. Further on, the tunnel was completely black.

“I’ve got to try to grab that pipe”, Celine thought. “I’ve got to keep myself as high out of the water as I can”.

Slippery though it was, she managed to grasp the pipe. With a supreme effort she pulled the upper part of her body out of the water and manoeuvred herself against the wall to stop herself being swept further along the drain.

Above ground, Serge panicked. “Help, help!” he cried, wading as fast as he could to his nearest neighbour’s house. “Quick! Celine’s been sucked down a drain! I’ve got to go back, I’ve got to get her out”.

“No,” said Louise Martinez, who lived opposite the couple. “We’ll ring the fire brigade.”

Drenched and freezing cold, Celine hung on. Thoughts came to her almost like photographs. She could see her daughter Amandine turning to blow her a kiss as she hurried into school. “I’ll never see her again”, she thought. She wouldn’t be there to celebrate Amandine’s twelfth birthday in two weeks time. “No!” she said to herself. “I’ve got to be there for her. I’ve got to survive”.

And then there was Serge. She thought of the squabble they’d had that morning. Now all she could think of was that Serge would have to tell Amandine that her mother was dead. How will he tell her? she wondered.

It didn’t bear thinking about. She couldn’t let it happen. “I’ve got to fight to the very end”.

The firemen finally managed to battle through the floods about an hour after they had received the call alerting them to Celine’s disappearance. They shone torches down the manhole and probed with metal rods but there was no sign of the missing woman.

As she hung from the pipe, Celine saw a brightlight. It was the firemen, she realized, shining powerful torches down the manhole. She started tapping on the pipe and battering the walls with her hands and arms, “I’m here!” she shouted. “Come and get me out.”

She watched as the firemen lowered metal rods, and she tried hard to shout above the noise of the racing water.

Then, to her astonishment and anger, the lights and rods disappeared. It was black now in the drain, and she felt objects smashing against her- bags, branches, the contents of bins, all swept away in the flood.

Unable to feel her legs, she knew she couldn’t hold on to the pipe any longer. I’ve got to do something, she thought. The water level had dropped to her chest. “There’s got to be an exit further on”, she reckoned. “All this water has got to go somewhere. Perhaps there’s a grill”. If it was shut she could be smashed to pieces against it, but if it was open she was free. She had to find out.

After a while, she was able to touch the bottom of the drain with her feet. The pipe had narrowed. Her hopes rose until suddenly her face smashed against something hard protruding from the wall – an iron bar.

Celine lost consciousness for a moment and came round to find herself once more going under the water. At the same time she could feel something above her. It seemed to be pieces of plastic hanging down from the roof. She grabbed one. Soon the water picked up speed , the current became more and more difficult to resist and Celine could no longer walk. Forced on to her back, she once again felt herself being sucked along, out of control.

She couldn’t hold on to the plastic any longer. She felt her body being thrown around by the water, turning over and over in the icy deluge. Her shoulder, then her legs and knees, slammed against the concrete wall. Still being buffeted by the terrifying force of the storm water, Celine did not immediately realize that she was in the open air. Night was falling. Then reality hit her. “I’m outside! I’m outside!” she thought jubilantly.

She was in a ditch whose water had over-flowed into a large flooded area, with houses on one side and fields on the other. She grabbed some tufts of grass and reeds but, still unable to lift herself out of the torrent, she screamed for help.

Above the roaring of the water, she heard a man’s voice. Jack Poderoso, a 45-year old teacher, was standing on concrete platform just above the storm drain exit, checking that his daughter’s horse was all right. “Is there someone down there?” he shouted.

“Yes, I’m here, I’m here,” Celine yelled back, “What’s the time?” “It’s after 7 pm”, he replied.

Celine was amazed. “Have I been down here for five hours?” “Ring Serge,” She shouted, “Tell him I’m alive. He thinks I’m dead.”

Jack could see that the woman was weak and still in danger. “No, calm down,”he said, “You’ve got to get out of that river.”

Celine managed to heave herself onto the muddy bank, but there was still noway Jack could reach her.

Jack forced Celine to give him Serge’s number, repeating it figure by figure above the water’s roar. When nobody answered, Celine managed to recall Serge’s brother’s number. Celine’s head ached but, urged on by Jack, she dragged herself to her feet.

Then she heard another voice, inquiring “Where’s the body?” It was a fireman bearing a bag. It was after 8 pm when Serge arrived at Lunel’s fire station. A fire engine pulled up outside. The doors opened. Inside sat Celine, her hair wet and bedraggled, her face battered. She had no voice left. She could only collapse weeping into Serge’s arms.

No one can understand how Celine survived. She has her own theory. “When I want something, I’m very determined. I wanted to be there for my daughter and for Serge.”

(Adapted from The Reader’s Digest- Dec, 2004)

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