GLOSSARY
Poland glossary

Bronislaw

(POLAND 42)

Sex

male

Age

40

Occupation

works at waste water plant

Location

P

Date

P

 

transcript

Section 1
Letís begin with a few words about you. Iíd like you to tell me your name, age and some personal data.
My name is Bronislaw Kuczek, I am 40, I live at No 4 Osiedle Kolorowe street. I have a wife and two children who attend a primary school in Gorzanůw. I work at a Waste Water Plant in Bystrzyca. Before we moved here, we lived with my parents in Gorzanůw, and in the meantime we were building a house in the centre of Gorzanůw. During the flood in 1997, the house got completely destroyed.

Letís focus on the flood. Did you expect that something like that might have happened?
Not to such an extent. I knew from the older inhabitants that the river Nysa Klodzka happened to overflow a few times; there were some little floods, but, even the oldest inhabitants donít remember such a disaster as the one in í97. The local chronicles claim that it was the most horrible disaster over a few hundred years. The first tide on that memorable day of July í97 was very high but the next one was an enormous power that could destroy whatever it met on its way.

What were you and your family doing when the water burst the bank? Where were you then?
When the river overflowed, we stayed at my wifeís parentsí in Gorzanůw. On the 6th of July, at about 1.00 p.m. I decided to go and have a look at our building site, which was at the other end of the village. The water had already floated through the centre of the village and we had to wear our wellington boots to get to the other side. I decided to return home and take my family into my car to show them the situation around our new house. At about 4.00 p.m. the rain became so heavy, that the little stream which floats near my parents-in-lawís house, turned into a huge river and we werenít able to get out. We returned, I left my family and the car and went to the centre on foot to check the situation. I had to take the longer way, across the fields, but somehow I managed to get to the centre. Most of the people didnít expect anything, only those who had telephones at home were able to inform one another that the water was coming higher and higher. The water burst the banks so suddenly that people were surrounded by water within a few minutes, absolutely unaware of the danger. That night was a horror: a complete darkness as electricity and telephones went out.

Was it that night when you realised the dimension of the disaster?
Yes, the most horrible hours were late evening and at night. I can only say...[break in recording] ...I tried to keep calm, I felt responsible for my family, especially for their mental state. The disaster caused a great depression and stress. In our village many houses got destroyed by the water, among them Ė ours.
Section 2
When your family realised what had happened, did they suffer nervous breakdown or were you able to have the situation well in hand?
We were all so depressed that I simply didnít believe what had happened. Some people came to see the place themselves because they claimed it was impossible that the house could disappear. When I described what had happened to my father-in-law, he just didnít believe me, he said I must have been mistaken. As a result, I lost my mind as well. I went there once again. The whole view of the village was very dramatic: the people sitting on the roofs of their houses, etc. I joined the rescue team and tried to help the others I wanted to believe I had been mistaken. Inside I tried to believe that in a shock I might not have seen properly. I wanted to believe I was mistaken. On the next day between 2.00 and 3.00 p.m. the rain became a little lighter, and, I finally managed to get to the other side of the river. To my horror, my suspicions turned out to be true: my house didnít stand on its place as usual. It just disappeared from the earth.

When were you going to move in?
We planned the removal in August. We intended to have the construction completed before school year. It was a turn-the-key building. We had everything supplied: water, central heating, electricity. We even turned the central heating on, to make the new walls warmer before moving in. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had moved in earlier. Maybe it was a sign of Providence that we didnít move in before we had finished everything. I didnít want to live in a mess, finishing the interior decoration step by step. I preferred to move into a ready made house. Maybe this way I escaped tragedy. If we had stayed in that house when the tide came, we wouldnít have had any little chance to escape.

What do you remember the most?
[Long silence] I donít know. Probably the most tragic was that night on the 7th of July. I will never forget the horrible noise that the river made, the things it carried, that darkness all around. Even the period of 10 or 20 years wonít be enough for that horrible picture to disappear from my mind. Itís just impossible to forget. I will also remember the integration among the people. Everybody did their best to help the others, many people risked their lives. There were no differences between us, every former conflicts were forgotten. We just tried to rescue our lives.

Can you describe how neighbours helped each other?
Well, unfortunately, it was impossible to reach every house. We helped those who lived at the outskirts of the village. The ones that were situated in the centre of the village got separated completely. The only thing they could do was to control the level of water and check if it was going up or down. They did it on their own using some sticks or drawing lines on the walls. They couldnít move or do anything, they spent the whole night on the roofs of their own houses.

How did your sons react for the fatal news of your house?
They got shocked and very stressed. It was impossible to communicate with them for a long time. They just couldnít imagine they wouldnít have the new house which they admired so much. They were both involved in construction works. They constructed an identical, toy house of LEGO building bricks. The other day the reporters from RTL channel came to us to do a television programme about the flood, and when I showed them the LEGO house, they had tears in their eyes. [tears in his eyes]
Section 3
What happened with your all family after the flood?
I worked for the anti-flood committee in Bystrzyca. We organised first aid for the victims. That was either the medical treatment or food supplies. After the flood alarm was called off, I started to consider the construction of a new house. Then I learnt that the victims were going to have new houses from the state funds granted. However, I still thought of taking to building a new house on my own. We stayed at my parents-in-lawís until December 6th, when we, among others, got the key to our new house. Anyway, most of us Ė the victims Ė are not going to stay here. The majority have already having new houses built in different places.

Now, please, tell me something about first aid. How was it organised?
The assistance we received was very well organised. I can say that food supplies even exceeded our needs. I think our village faced the problem of the wrong distribution because even those who werenít affected by the flood received some. Then we organised distribution points, where the gifts were delivered and where everything was divided into the right groups. The farmers received some feeding stuff. Then, when the water went down, people began the repair works of their houses. We were granted some building materials and everything had to be distributed according to fair rules. Anyway, sometimes some conflicts took place. When a firm delivered some materials to the village, they usually chose a representative of the inhabitants who was responsible for the distribution. Unfortunately, not always the one who was appointed was trustful enough. After the flood, the lists were made which pointed out to which extent the particular household was affected, so it was possible to check whether the distribution was run justly. On most of the houses one can see the marks which the water made. That way or another, now we have managed to recover from the pain we felt the first moment.

Do you have your own funds for the construction of a new house or is it everything you were granted from the government?
I didnít receive any materials. I got a financial assistance from the Gmina which amounted to 28,000 zlotys. Everyone who met some particular requirements, such as: the plot of land and the design, were granted the financial assistance. Thanks to very favourable circumstances I managed to complete all the necessary documentation by the end of the year í97 and at the beginning of 1998 I started with a new construction. In autumn í98 I had the shell of a building completed. These days, when winter is over, I am preparing the building for supplying the electricity, laying the floors and supplying sewerage.

So, you donít procrastinate, do you?
I took a loan in a bank on particular basis which I cannot break. I have time limits until which I have to finish some stage of works. An expert comes from the bank and he checks the progress of works. I may take another amount of funds when the expert confirms that the given stage has been completed. I will begin repaying the credit by instalments in the year 2000. By that time I must have construction work completed because then Iíll need the money for decoration works and paying instalments at the same time would be too much for me.
Section 4
Was it hard to you to begin building once again with nothing?
I must say that I got used to making all the arrangements. The documentation, administrative arrangements are now quite familiar to me. However, there is something which makes a much bigger problem to me. The works connected with building a new house take a lot of time. I have very little time for my family. My children realise that if we want to have a house on our own, we have to build it first, but they might be fed up with that waiting. My wife stays with children for the whole day, I am away at a building site. I have no time to spend with them, take them somewhere for a weekend, go for holiday. We havenít had holiday together for a few years. This year, I finally decided to go somewhere with my family, for at least two weeks, to make the family life more attractive. If we sacrifice our life to work only, it stops to make sense.

Coming back once again to the influence of the flood on peopleís mentality, who suffered more: your wife or your children? Did they undergo any therapy after that?
In Gorzanůw a special training was conducted for the children who were affected by the flood. The therapy aimed at lessening the picture of the disaster which recorded in childrenís minds. The meetings were organised by Mr and Mrs Komornicki. Thanks to that treatment, the children seemed to recover form the stress rather quickly. I admire my children for the way they managed to overcome the depression. They participated in the construction works of the first house, I remember how much involved they were in e.g. unloading the bricks. All the family worked together. Now I do much more on my own, so the second building will not be as unforgettable an experience as the first one used to be.

Is the new house located in the same site?
No, it isnít. Itís in a different place, on a different building site.

Is it a longer distance from the river?
Yes, itís further from the river, but first of all, itís higher.

Have you deliberately chosen such a place?
That wasnít my choice. I just took the plot which was to let. The location is much better than the previous one but not ideal. The water got there during the last flood but in fact there was very little of it in the place where my new house stands. There was much more water on the side of the fields and ditches.

Why, do you think, the disaster happened?
I wouldnít say it happened because of too sinful life of the inhabitants. It was just an unfortunate coincidence in the atmosphere. When I worked with anti-flood committee, we were constantly informed of the meteorological situation, and I learned that the disaster was caused by the west wind and low clouds which gathered around Snieznik Massif. According to different information, the clouds that gathered together were 10-12 kilometres thick. It had definitely nothing to do with the number of sins which the inhabitants committed. A lot of other towns and villages suffered the same fate: the area from Klodzko and Wroclaw up to the German border was all flooded.
Section 5
You were a member of an anti-flood committee. Did you notice anything strange or new in peopleís behaviour?
Itís quite a long time now to remember it exactly. I think, the people were very nervous and irritated. They got angry about anything. There were, in fact, a lot of those who came here from other regions just to have a look at the size of the tragedy. The victims couldnít bear it. We, as the rescue team, together with the army, visited the affected places to estimate the damage. Sometimes when we appeared, we were treated as if we were intruders. We made them irritated, but, in a way it was understandable: most of them were moved out of their houses and they had nowhere to come back, they didnít sleep, some of them were temporarily located in schools but they generally felt depressed. Thatís what I managed to observe.

Were there any moments when you could see the examples of the Ďdark sideí of peopleís characters?
I must admit, yes, I could see some situations. I donít want to mention names...

They arenít necessary.
It was when people were queuing for a new amount of assistance. Some people claimed that the goods were not distributed properly, so we had to consult on who is the right person to be given the assistance. To my surprise, those who did most mess were usually women. They are more sensitive or more jealous, I donít know. When the assistance from the firms came, the family was appointed who was responsible for the distribution of goods. I used to be the councillor in Gorzanůw that time, and I remember people coming to our office to complain on who and how appoints the families to distribute goods. I witnessed a few very unpleasant situations when a supply of clothes arrived. I think it was a turning point of the whole action. There were people who refused to take the things because they didnít like them, or some others would take the bag of clothes and then left it somewhere. I think, the unnecessary things should have been stored somewhere but not thrown away. The next year a similar disaster occurred in other parts of the country, and the things we gave away might as well have been sent to the other regions. Unfortunately, we donít have to wait long for new disasters and new victims who are in need.

Were the people disappointed? How did the assistance they got compare to their expectations?
It is a difficult question. It all depends on the individual expectations. I personally think that the assistance was quite sufficient and satisfactory, but, on the other hand, there were some voices of disappointment. Not only did the goods arrive from the area of all the country but from abroad as well. All of the affected were given some assistance, everything was equally divided and distributed, I believe. However, I noticed a few signs of disappointment. Some people would always interfere in the othersí affairs and it is difficult to satisfy them. They seem never to have enough. Such an unpleasant situation might have been caused by a fault in the way the distribution was conducted. Some of the goods were divided through so called central distribution (by the Gmina authorities), which was very convenient. But, there were also families appointed to be responsible for distribution. This caused most of the confusion; some people claimed they deserve more while their neighbours took too much, etc.
Section 6
You mentioned TV reporters coming and recording some documentaries about the disaster. What did you feel about it? Werenít they too inquisitive for that moment?
The TV reporters stopped at Klodzko and the reports were broadcast on Polish TV continuously. Very little was said about Bystrzyca, while it was here where the flood really began: the mountain springs burst the banks first, and, we were caught by water unaware. The water reached Klodzko much later, the inhabitants were informed by the Mayor, they had time to prepare for evacuation. Fortunately, in our village, everybody survived, but it might a have been worse. Somehow everybody managed to escape. [...]

If a similar situation happened once again, what would you do: would you act the same or differently?
I think, if the situation repeated, all the inhabitants would act more quickly. The peopleís awareness has grown since that time. Whenever its begins to rain, everybodyís eyes focus on the river. In my opinion, the system of communication should be improved in the village, so that everybody could be informed about the danger early enough. In 1997 there were very few telephones in the village. These days the number of mobile phones is growing. If one person receives the warning of the danger, he or she should be able to pass the information immediately. Also, the State services should be more reliable. They should be more aware of the character of the area, to undertake the right actions.

Coming back to your feelings and emotions; how did you sleep at night after the disaster?
I couldnít sleep for about two weeks. I sometimes took a nap for an hour or two. I generally havenít got nightmares when I sleep, but, the worst moment to me was every time I woke up and realised what Iíd lost: the house was not only a few walls to me, it was part of my life. I sacrificed so much to the building, it took time to prepare the site, carry the materials. I was so happy to see the building stand at last. Thatís why, it is so hard to put up with the feeling that it has all gone. I am afraid, I will feel the pain till the end of my life.

How do you find living in the new building?
Iíve been living here since December, 6th, and I am finding the conditions very good. All of our neighbours are the victims, too and the relationship between us is absolutely positive. All of us suffered the same.

What about the living conditions?
I think that in comparison with the other houses of such kind, these ones are the best. They are nice, dry and neatly decorated. In case any fault occurs, we can have it mended under the warranty. For example, there is a fault in the doorways, they are draughty in all our houses and in winter the doorstep gets frozen. We all applied for the repairs and hope to have it done soon. Generally, we feel satisfied.
[The narratorís wife shows me two photos which were made 10 years ago, during the construction works of the first house]

Do you remember that moment?
[narrator watches for quite a long time] Yes, this is the moment that I told you about: my boys are carrying bricks... [tears in his eyes]
Section 7
Is there anything you would like to add?
For all the time which has passed since the flood, I try to spend my time actively building a new house, in order not to think too much about the disaster - I donít like to talk about it. Whenever I drive across Gorzanůw, I canít stop looking at the place where my house stood. It comes back to my mind all the time, itís just impossible to forget the tragedy which took place here. We try not to mention it when we meet within the family circle, the memories influence us negatively. The time when we could have lived in our own house was so close, and suddenly it become so distant again...

Thank you very much.

Interviewerís comment.
This conversation wasnít easy because neither me nor the narrator had time to prepare for it. The narrator seems to be an introvert and it took a long time to make him speak openly. He isnít used to speaking about his feelings in public. He willingly spoke about the flood from the professional point of view as in his job he deals with water. Before I started recording, he asked me not to make him describe the catastrophe from his personal point of view. There were only a few little moments when his great pain appeared on his face. Even when he said Ďlife must go oní, the tone of his voice seemed to say something quite different. Twice, when he mentioned the participation of his sons in building the first house, I saw tears in his eyes. In my opinion, this interview, which is rather poor in its content, has a vast psychological value. The narrator very rarely talks about himself, he rather tends to talk about things in general. The atmosphere at the narratorís home was very kind, I got a very warm welcome.