Gabriela Igloria: So, what’s your name?

Lydia Llames: Lydia Llames.

GI: How old are you?

LL: 55.

GI: How long have you lived in Norfolk?

LL: Oh, all my life more or less, yeah.

GI: And what neighborhood or area of Norfolk do you live in right now?

LL: I am in Suburban Acres.

GI: Have you lived in other parts of the city while you’ve been here?

LL: Yes, I grew up off of the naval base in the Ben Moreell area near Sewells Point Elementary, and then, in the Commodore Park section before moving to where I am now.

GI: Nice, OK. And then, is there a body of water close to where you live and which one?

LL: There’s not a big body of water, there’s a little ravine behind my apartment building, and by ravine, I mean, like-

GI: Small.

LL: —yeah, very small, and everything that I don’t even know if there’s water in there, but if you look at the maps, it says that water will go back there…

GI: Yeah, and so, when it floods, do you get a lot of that pooling up a little bit, or…?

LL: I haven’t actually peaked down into it, because it’s so overgrown, so I just know it’s there because of a map and you know, I see it back there, but to see how much water actually goes in there, it’s too overgrown to see how much water goes in there, yeah.

GI: And so, if you own a home, do you have flood insurance?

LL: No, I’m in an apartment, and I’m on the second floor, so no flood insurance.

GI: And do you think that flood insurance would make a difference and in what ways?

LL: For me, or for…?

GI: In general, I guess but also, if it does apply more specifically…?

LL: It would help.

GI: Right.

LL: I mean, it would help people recover, but again, it’s just a temporary fix, that’s not the big problem that needs to be addressed.

GI: Yeah, yeah. That does kind of lead into the next question that I have here, in terms of recovering, in the event of a flood here, how well do you think you would be able to rebuild from that?

LL: I would be fine. I wouldn’t have a problem because like I said, I’m on the second-floor apartment, so as far as immediate property, the only thing that I would be worried about is my car, my vehicle, other than that, I would be fine.

GI: How have you or others you know in Norfolk experienced flooding in your neighborhood?

LL: Well, like I said, it doesn’t really flood where I am in my neighborhood, but it’s like I’m in apartment complex located in a neighborhood proper, so where my apartment complex is, we’re in a flood zone, but it hasn’t flooded there, but the neighborhood, which is maybe not even a quarter mile away, it’s like five minutes just walk out of the apartment, you’re in that neighborhood—

GI: Uh-huh.

LL: —it floods, because again, there is a feed that goes back there, and I guess that floods of – actually, there is, there’s that finger behind my building, and then, I just remembered that along Suburban Parkway, there is a bigger gulley that cuts between the neighborhood and my apartment complex, and it does go on the other side, so yeah, there’s more water back there than I thought.

GI: Right. And it’s like no matter where you go in Norfolk, there is some body of water, or even if it’s small, when it rains, that can kind of exacerbate that.

LL: And then, I realize as I turn on to Galveston, there is another feed over there, so I’m thinking those two, the two bigger ones are probably what floods the neighborhood.

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative], and depending on elevation, too, that can kind of—

LL: And it’s very—

GI: Yeah, very—

Lydia: —it’s very—

GI: —steep.

LL: Yeah.

GI: Yeah. Yeah.

LL: It’s interesting.

GI: What sorts of things do you do to prepare for a flood or things like hurricanes or other storms that turn to amplify the intensity of flooding?

LL: [Takes a bit] Again, I feel so bad that I don’t really prep…

GI: No, [laughs]…

LL: I think the only thing that I do, do is just make sure that I have a water supply and go ahead and stock up on the nonperishables, and then, I go ahead, and if it’s going to be bad, I go to my parent’s house because they have a generator. And again, they’re supposedly in a flood zone, they have Mason Creek behind them, but Mason Creek has locks on it. I don’t know if they still use them or not, but they’re locks that if the water were to rise, they can close it off, so Mason Creek’s level will not be affected, so yeah, not a lot of prep going on guiltily.

GI: Has it always been like that for you, have you always just kind of done the—

LL: You mean the low—

GI: —storing the water?

LL: Yes.

GI: And-

LL: Yeah, the way you said, I’m ashamed to say it, but—

GI: No, no, it’s fine—

LL: [Laughs]

GI: —everyone does their own thing. I know for us, I think the most we do is move our car to one of the garages nearby, so that it’s higher up. When they open it, they open the university garages sometimes when it’s really bad over here, and then, we just park somewhere higher up.

LL: It’s just nice that they now have garages like—

GI: Right, yeah.

LL: —you know? Yeah, because I was looking as I was driving, in Hampton Boulevard, floods a lot now, and so, I saw that they have raised or are in the process of raising a lot of those houses. I’m like, “That’s great for the house, but your vehicle is still kinda…” but that’s cool, they have the garages…

GI: Yeah, the elevated housing, too, makes me kind of worry for other people who might not be able get upstairs super well either because I mean, sure, we’ve elevated the houses but now what?

LL: Exactly.

GI: If you can’t get out, then what more can you—

LL: Exactly.

GI: —do?

LL: Hope they stocked up well.

GI: Right, yeah, yeah. So, can you share a little bit more about a time when you’ve witnessed flooding or sea level rise in Norfolk impact you or your community?

LL: Oh, geez, I guess the major impact that it had on us was when Melina was at Ruffner, Ruffner Middle School for middle school, and there were times where it flooded so badly that classes were closed because we couldn’t get to her school, or there were other times where they didn’t close school, and it was like OK, so, we’re driving, and then, we would get to I think it was Virginia Beach Boulevard, or it was that intersection right before you got to… and it would be flooded, and so, we would be there and we will just watch people drive through. And I would gauge and say, “OK, am I gonna make it through?” You’re not supposed to, but I’m like—

GI: But—

LL: —“OK, these lower cars are making it…” And we had an Explorer and it drove higher, so it’s like, “OK, yeah, I guess we’ll make it through and everything…” so yeah, that was the most that it affected us.

GI: Yeah. So, I’ve spoken with several women for this project who are mothers or caretakers in other ways, and so, I was wondering as a mother yourself who’s raised Melina here in Norfolk, what concerns did you or do you still have when it comes to navigating the effects of flooding and sea level rise?

LL: [Takes a bit] It’s [pauses]… it changes things. I mean, you really do have to adjust and everything, but again, it’s like, yeah, we’re flooding, but I just feel like you have to look at why we’re flooding. Yes, there’s sea level rise, but like I said, I went ahead and had to look up and say, “Why are we flooding so badly?” because we came here in ’68, so yeah, I grew up here, and then, growing up I was like, “I don’t remember Norfolk flooding this much, and why is it flooding so much now?” So, I was like, “OK, I have to Google it.”

So, I Googled it, and I first found an article done by WH Munroe, and they’re calling it “The Hidden”—OK, let me pull it up real quick—OK, it’s called “A Hidden Vulnerability.” And long story short, it’s land in Hampton Road is sinking twice as fast as sea level is rising.

So, I don’t know, like I said, because where I live and where we have lived, we’ve been lucky enough that the floods don’t affect us, so the only time it really does is if we have to go somewhere. And if it’s flooded, I just simply don’t go, or I find a way around, and if I can’t, I just reschedule.

GI: Yeah…

LL: I know that sounds weird, but…

GI: No, it doesn’t—

LL: [Laughs]

GI: —no. I think maybe we evacuated once, but yeah, we don’t really leave much either.

LL: I don’t think—the only time I think we thought about evacuating was the hurricane, what was it, a couple years ago? It was that time you guys ended up going to Chicago—?

GI: Yeah, yeah.

LL: —and everything? We thought about going up to Richmond. I think it was maybe your freshman year because Melina was at William and Mary, and she was asking me if we could take her classmate, too—

GI: Oh, yeah.

LL: —her roommate, so she’s like, “Hey, if we have to evacuate, can we grab my roommate?” I was like, “Yeah, definitely.” and everything… And then, originally, we were thinking of going to Richmond, but I was like, “Richmond is along the James River so we might wanna go farther inland.” So I said, “Well, you know what, we can go to where Stormy lives because she’s farther inland…”

GI: Yeah, that’s something that a lot of people are concerned with, too, is how much can you go inland before—

LL: Well, it’s—

GI: —it catches up?

LL: It’s not even so much, it’s like yeah, going inland as we have to go through tunnels and over bridges to get to it and those backup on a good day, so imagine how it’s going to be when you do a formal evacuation and everybody is trying to get through all of these tunnels and passageways, so…?

GI: We had that bad storm just last week with the hail and then, the tornado warning, and then, there was a flash flood warning right after it, and I know that even though that was last week, I think one of the underpasses near Booker T. Washington is still flooded.

LL: Yes.

GI: Yeah.

LL: Oh, I remember that a couple years ago, and my sister, she took a picture—she was driving around it actually—you know, I told her about it, I saw it on the news, and she actually went there and took a picture—

GI: Oh, my gosh!

Lydia: —because she was like, “Great photo op.” And I’m like, “Are you out of your mind and everything?” But then, they have a high vehicle, too, so yeah… and there was actually a vehicle, somebody was crazy enough to actually try to drive, so there was a vehicle in that one. I don’t know if there’s one in it now, but yeah, and that area—but see, Downtown, it pretty much shuts down—

GI: Right, yeah.

Lydia: —when we flood.

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Lydia: There isn’t a place that’s really spared Downtown.

GI: Mm-hmm, yeah, yeah.

Lydia: So…

GI: That’s one of the first areas I know that the city is planning to put up protections with because it’s just such a crucial part of our economy here in Norfolk.

LL: Well, what protections are they talking…?

GI: They’re talking about flood walls, putting up maybe levees in different, what do you call them, like the pumps, the water pumps, all these different things…

Lydia: Right, interesting.

GI: Mm-hmm, yeah. But it varies depending on the neighborhood, so Downtown gets a lot of these protections earlier on because they have the income, and they’re—

Lydia: Yeah, and—

GI: —doing—

Lydia: —the river is right there, so the immediate is there.

GI: Yeah, yeah, and so a lot of people in other communities and neighborhoods in Norfolk are I guess, concerned about what protections they’re gonna get too, because it seems like it’s not really being fairly distributed.

LL: Right, that’s not unusual, though—

GI: Right, of course, yeah.

Lydia: —you know?

GI: Yeah, I mean, it’s been happening for years now.

Lydia: Yeah.

GI: Yeah, yeah. And so yeah, I did also wanna ask about that recent storm that we had, did that storm affect your regular routine at all?

Lydia: [Takes a bit] I ended up not driving where I needed to. I was actually at my parent’s house when it hit, and like I said, that area typically doesn’t flood, but as soon as we heard the hail, we open the door—

GI: Oh, my gosh.

Lydia: —and it was like oh… and everything… I saw the hail, and not only the hail, looked at the street and the street in front their house was actually pretty flooded and everything, and so I was like, “OK, I guess I’m not going home because now I’m in a low, low vehicle…”

So yeah, because the street in their neighborhood flooded, and then, on Granby Street, there is that little branch that’s fed by Mason Creek –and they did fix that a couple years back, I don’t remember when, but that flooded because there was a dip in the road – but they actually, I don’t know what they’re called, tunnels, like little waterways under the road, so now, it no longer floods and everything, but yeah, once I saw a street that typically doesn’t flood, the water was sitting there as I was like, “I’m not going anywhere until it dies down.” So, I don’t think I left their house until 1:00 in the morning—

GI: Oh, my gosh.

LL:—just to make sure that all the water was down.

GI: Yeah. It’s difficult because we have to make decisions now for the future about how we’re going to live with the water because it doesn’t really seem to be lessening at all—

LL: Yeah.

GI: —the flooding, right?

LL: Well, like I said, when the land is sinking…

GI: Right, the land sinking and that sea level rise—

LL: —at twice the amount—

GI: —is also…

LL: Yeah.

GI: Right.

LL: So, it’s like you can put up the protections to stop the water, but again, what are you going to do about the land sinking?

GI: Right, right, and then, that other thing with flood walls I guess is, if you have all these barriers up, the rain still comes down, or kind of just becomes like a big bucket…

LL: Mm-hmm [affirmative], and the water OK, if it doesn’t go to Part A, where is it going to feed for Part B?

GI: Right.

LL: What part are you affecting when you block it here? Which goes back to the other neighborhoods, it’s like, “OK, you’re protecting this neighborhood, but—”

GI: But what about us?

LL: “—are you sure you’re not flooding everybody else in the process?”

GI:Yeah, that is a major concern for people for sure, yeah.

LL: And especially this area because—and one of my sister’s friends said it best, she was visiting—it was like a couple that they knew from Indiana, and they were flying in to Norfolk. And when she finally got to their house, she was like, “How do you guys live here?” and it’s like “Why?” and she goes: “There’s so much water.” She was in the plane; her friend was in the plane, and she was looking down and she goes: “I looked out the window and all I saw was water.” And she was like, “Where is this plane going to land?” And you know, from our airport, you see one of the runaways actually ends at water…

GI: Yeah, yeah.

LL: —so, yeah, it’s a lot here.

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative], mm-hmm [affirmative]. And so, we’ve talked a bit about the city’s plans to mitigate flooding, and so, I was wondering what concerns you have regarding future flood protections and more specifically, what those protections could mean for your neighborhood or community?

LL: [Takes a bit] I don’t know. I honestly don’t know how to answer that question because like I said, my immediate neighborhood is not affected, and then, I have seen them do some like was it—if you go over to the Granby Street bridge towards Downtown and then, you take that block off of or that drive on to Llewellyn, it feeds up… there was a major dip in that road that flooded for the longest time that we had to keep going around, and that was years…

And then, they finally—there was one time that it rained heavily, and I was thinking: “OK…” I was prepared to drive around, and people were actually going straight on Llewellyn, and I said, “What on earth… are they crazy?” And what they did was they paved it, and like you said, there was that dip in the road, and all they did was pave over it, so now, you’ve got this incline and everything, but the thing is, is that OK, that part doesn’t flood, but at the bottom—

GI: No, it’s—

LL: —it still floods.

GI: Right, right.

LL: So, I guess, my concern is that OK, how permanent are these going to be? It’s like it’s a quick fix, but are you looking at the long-term or are you looking at the short-term? Because going back to that road, yes, you paved it, but you look at the base, and that’s already chipping away, and then, like I said, it’s still floods at the bottom, so it’s like how temporary or how permanent is it going to be?

GI: Yeah, so what other things besides these infrastructure changes that the city is doing, do you think that might benefit us in the future?

LL: I just think they need to plan wisely as far as where they build, how they build… like I said, there’s not much you can do when the land is sinking, it’s not a matter of how, it’s just a matter of when? I just think it’s going to take better planning, and they need to be honest about it, they need to be realistic about it because even now, I see some new construction or they’re raising buildings, Case in point, the Frank Spicer building on Monticello, is it Monticello and Princess Anne?

GI: Maybe, yeah.

LL: I think so, but that area is one of the big areas that flood in Downtown, and you definitely can’t drive there. And they’re redoing that building, you know? They’re going to reuse it, and it’s OK, have you told the people or whoever is redoing this building that: “Oh, by the way, it floods around your building?”

So, I don’t know, I just think it’s gonna take better planning and you need to be, what’s the word, when you’re open…? It’s like you have to be honest with people, it’s like, “OK, yeah, like I said, the Frank Spicer building, OK, yeah, you’re interested in opening your business in this building? It’s a great building, but you do need to deal with flooding around the street.”

GI: And how much worse is it gonna get in the future if we don’t do anything to, I guess, mitigate some of our carbon emissions too, because global warming also…

LL: Right, and see—

GI: —impacts sea level rise…

LL: And see, that’s what’s troubling because Norfolk—that was another thing that my sister’s friend said as she was driving in, she was like, “OK, yeah, there is a lot of water, but the area is also very green.” So, you know, it’s very green, so we have the greenery to help suck up the carbon emissions and you just have to think: “OK, if we’ve got all of this going for us, and it’s still flooding, what’s the next step?”

GI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative].

LL: So, yeah, I just think, just they need to think through, and then, with all of the pavement also, it’s like over the years, there’s a lot more concrete in Norfolk, so there’s also nowhere for the water to go. So, yeah, I just think better planning…

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative], there’s only so much we can do to redirect water, and then, we have to live with the consequences of where that water goes also.

LL: Exactly.

GI: And I guess that sort of answers this next question of what you would want others in the community, law makers, decision-makers to know or consider with more care as they continue to make plans for flood resilience, I think that this kind of answers that, but if you would like to add anything else to that…?

LL: Yeah, I guess also looking at… like I said, another thing that I notice is we have all of the drainage. I know they said a lot of the places that do flood, there are actually the storm drains, so it’s like, OK, and Norfolk being in an old city it’s like, “OK, how is our drainage system?” So, I don’t know, I didn’t research that, but it was like, “OK, how is our drainage system, and is there a way that we could reroute the system?” So, yeah…

GI: Yeah, I know something that I’ve been concerned with, too, is the water quality when it comes to flooding, too, how does that affect the—

LL: Oh, yeah…

GI: —water that we need to drink and—

LL: Well, that was another thing—

GI: —to use for so many things?

LL: —it’s like because—that was another thing I looked at, I Iooked it up, but yeah, did I take a picture of that? I saved it—cuz that was another thing I asked, I was like, “OK, where is our drinking water actually coming from?” Let me see if I actually saved it.

The thing is, I think again, the quick answer is, it’s not… I don’t think—it’s not immediately around here, but we have quite a few places where we get our water, but there, at least we have our own water, our own water thing—where does Norfolk get its water, you know?

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

LL: I saw… you know, I’ll look it up another time, but yeah…

GI: Yeah, and then, lastly, I guess, are there any other stories or thoughts on flooding and sea level rise that you wanted to share that maybe, we didn’t touch on yet?

LL: [Takes a bit] I don’t know, like I said, it’s just been interesting seeing how much Norfolk floods now as opposed to back in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, and I think it will be interesting to see if these things that they implement are actually going to work, and kudos to the groups that are trying to work on it because they have their hands full.

GI: Yeah, I think I remember a quote from something that I read before that was saying, “What do we do when the water doesn’t match our calculations of what it’s supposed to do?” Because people are working so hard to help and do what they can right now, but then, things can change literally the next day. Well, I don’t wanna end on such a bummer note, but I guess, do you have any hopes then for the future?

LL: Like I said—

GI: How we can work with the water…?

LL: The way I see it, they’re going to have to find a way to work with it, because it’s not going anywhere. Like I said, the land is sinking at twice the amount that the sea is rising, so it goes back—what you said is perfect. It’s like you can only fight it so much, but they’ve got to find a way to work with it, work around it, work with it, because it’s not a matter of who’s gonna win because we know who’s gonna win. It’s like you said, how we’re going to adjust to it. I don’t think that’s a downer, it’s reality—

GI: Right.

LL: —you know?

GI:Yeah. We can’t address anything unless we face the reality.

LL: Yeah, and what you said, I don’t see it as bad or good, it just, it is what it is, and how are we gonna work with it?

GI: Right, yeah, well, thank you.

LL: You’re very welcome…I was like, “OK, doesn’t the flooding affect everybody?” But then, you know what…? And then, another thing I thought about was: “Oh, but then, it can also go back to: ‘OK, think about where the demographics are…’”

GI: Yeah.

LL: But what’s interesting is that the demographics, it’s like the flooding doesn’t know demographics.

GI: Mm-hmm [affirmative], but people do.

LL: Yeah, people do.

GI: Yeah. So, the choices that people have made in the past still affect things now.

LL: But what I’m wondering is, how transparent are these companies and people being, when it comes to settling in, like another thing that popped up when I was looking up: “OK, why is Norfolk flooding so much?” was: “Oh, Norfolk is a great place to retire, Norfolk is a great place to bring your family.” and it was like, “Oh, the 10, 11 best neighborhoods to live in if you move to Norfolk...”

So, of course, I’m looking at it and I’m like, “OK, number one, a lot of the neighborhoods were the richer neighborhoods in Norfolk.” which I thought was kind of ironic because I’m like, “You know a lot of these neighborhoods are along the water and so they’re going to flood?” and was like, “Are you telling that to people when you’re trying to sell them a house or whatnot and everything?” So, yeah, that was interesting. But yeah, I was like I’m interested, you need to keep me posted on this because—

GI: Oh, yeah—

LL: —I wanna see how—

GI: —absolutely.

LL: —it plays out.

GI: Yeah, yeah, I mean, one of the things that I’m looking at in this project is also how things like redlining that aren’t really practiced anymore—

LL: What is redlining again?

GI: So, it’s basically the way that different districts were decided based on housing, income, but a lot of the choices that people made to decide which neighborhood got an A through D rating was often based on race. So—

LL: Oh…

GI:: —neighborhoods that were A or B usually were the quote-unquote better neighborhoods to live in—

LL: Right.

GI: —and often that meant that it was basically just white people living there.

LL: You know, what, it’s actually interesting that you mentioned it…Here’s an interesting thing, so like I said, I’m in Archer’s Green which is an apartment complex within a neighborhood, OK? And so, that hurricane that we were talking about your freshmen year, yours and Melina’s freshman year in college, I was looking, and I said, “OK, this is actually like the first—ah well, there was Gloria in 85, but for some reason, I didn’t take that very seriously—but anyway, so it’s like, “OK, I guess I should see where we are as far as where we are in the flood plains.” So, my apartment complex itself, the street that I live on, and my part of the neighborhood is Zone C, but then, across Suburban Parkway, the other half of the apartment complex is in B.

GI: Oh, interesting.

LL: Yeah.

GI: And it’s in the same building?

LL: Yeah, but then it goes back to also, I guess because of the feeds, the little creeks or whatever, I was Iike, “OK, yeah, they do have the creeks where they are.” and that was actually when I went for my walk, I was like, “OK, how does the land dip? How much…?” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess it’s a wee bit lower over there, but yeah…”

And then, I was talking to another friend who lives in the North Shore Neighborhood, and she was trying to figure out where she was, and I said, “Well, it says you’re in C with me…” and I said, “But again, if you go a couple streets over, that’s another zone.” And she goes: “I’m gonna be an optimist and go with the better of the two.” And I was like, “OK, bet on you, hope it works.” And then, it will be interesting to see how that changes with them tearing down the public housing and what they’re putting up in its place, so let’s see how if that affects the flood zones as well…

GI: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm [affirmative], yeah, another piece of that is gentrification and how that’s been forcing some people out of where they’ve been living so that then the property value of these places that are refurbished, I guess increases. But then, a lot of people of color are now not living there because they were forced out, and so, still the protections are going to those areas that have a higher property value, which often correlates, you know, racially…?

LL: Which, Iike we said, it’s interesting because they’re closing a lot of that housing, they’re tearing it down, like you said, it’s going to be gentrified, and one of the areas is where the underpass is near Booker T.—

GI: Yeah, yeah.

LL: —so I mean, just that whole Princess Anne, Virginia Beach Boulevard corridor is a major flood area, so that will be interesting. But yeah, keep me posted.

GI: I will yeah.

Interview with Lydia Llames

(Suburban Acres)