Orange Beach, Ala.— I wonder sometimes down here whether the conservative evangelicals might have had a point. Because it really does feel like End Times down here along the Gulf Coast.
The streets are all but deserted. Parking spots closest to the beach are always available. Helicopters fly up and down along the coast all day, monitoring the spread of the oil. I pulled into a parking lot for the Gulf Shores National Seashore and the woman there tells me the beach is closed. “The slick’s coming in pretty bad,” she said. She’s supposed to charge me $5, but refuses. “Are you sure? You guys are hurting for money,” I say. She says to me, “Everyone’s hurting for money” and waves me on. Later, sitting in Hazel’s Diner, I notice that every face is turned to the television behind me.
CNN was airing live footage of a flash flood. A teenage girl caught in the raging and muddy current was clinging to tree branches. I ask, “Arkansas?” “No,” someone says. “Oklahoma City.” Ten inches of rain fell on the city in less than 12 hours, killing one person. The monthly average for June is half that. It’s only the latest in a series of flash floods. In Tennessee, 18 people died. In Arkansas, 20 were killed.
The waitresses looked teary-eyed at the customers, as if they were simply unable to bear any more bad news. We stared back at the women with the same expression. What the hell has been unleashed? Of course, you don’t have to be washed in the blood of salvation to know that something truly bad is going on. The great tragedy is that it’s of our own making.