I grew up in East Texas, which means I was no stranger to a good thunderstorm. It rained anytime in the year, and the streets might be freely flowing with water, and that was just another regular day in which everyone went about their regular activities and the water drained away.
Then I went to Abilene Christian University, where it rained less, though still at times throughout the year. When we had a good downpour, parts of the city would flood, so you would be redirected from using full underpasses or you might have to slow down on some streets to slosh your way through. I remember one day slogging my way back to the dorm through a veritable lake in the parking lot on campus. Daily life didn’t really change with rain, but it was more problematic to deal with and might affect optional activities.
Moving on to Arequipa, Peru. We now have a true rainy season, as in it only rains around the summer months, mostly in January and February. The rest of the year is dry and sunny almost every day. When it does rain here, it is what we would call a shower rather than a storm, as there is very rarely thunder or lightning. However, it causes major problems throughout the city.
When it comes to a family home, the main issue is construction. Homes here are built with additions in mind, which means the roofs are flat and left with rebar and partial frames to add another floor. However, this also means that water will likely collect there and seep through the ceiling into the home. Leaks are extremely common, leaving residents cleaning up water, rearranging their homes to avoid damage, and even being on the roof in the rain, sweeping away the excess.
On a broad scale, the city is not designed to drain water, which means the streets flood and drainage gets backed up. Basically, the sewers fill up with rainwater instead of household drainage, and some of the overflow comes out on the streets or even in homes. This means that the city will turn off our water, either to repair breaks or simply to prevent residents from adding to the already burdened sewage system and allow it to settle back to a more normal level. Thus, ironically, when the city and our homes are inundated with water, we have to deal with a lack of it as well.
Electricity is also affected, as Arequipa depends on hydroelectric power. The plant uses screens to prevent any debris from clogging up the system. Thus, when the waterways are overrun and washing away even more trash, the city must turn off the system to clear the screens and resume generating energy. Blackouts are most common, but there is also the occasional brownout (when electricity levels are lowered, so that lights in the home will turn on but remain dim, and most appliances will not turn on at all) to ration the reduced amount of electricity available.
Streets are another question. Some flood and are literally rivers for half the day. Others are damaged and full of potholes, which is serious because the city has so many small taxis that must navigate these with extreme caution, slowing down traffic in many parts of the city. The city works to make repairs quickly on clear days, but they often don’t last long once the rain starts up again. One main street that runs alongside the river has a chunk washed away due to the force of the waterflow in that area right now. The flow of traffic is either slowed down or redirected altogether. This year, the city reported that 60% of the roads have been damaged, and some bus lines chose to stop running altogether for a couple of weeks rather than risk their routes.
Beyond all these infrastructural issues, the individual is affected. The majority of the people here take buses, which means walking to the appropriate street corner and awaiting the correct line, if it even runs. They might have to walk through water several inches deep. Passing cars splash through the streets and may soak pedestrians. This often means that someone will only venture out for necessary things such as school or a job, and avoid optional outings. Clothes dryers are a rarity, with most people line drying laundry on their roofs. Thus, getting soaked to the bone means you are delayed in getting dry. And when there are days with no water and clothes must dry slowly in the house, if at all, many are unmotivated to take any step out the door that is not required of them.
We are blessed by having a fairly dry home and ease in transportation, whether in a cab or a personal car. I still enjoy the rain. But my Arequipan friends and neighbors do not share my view, and probably never will. They just see how it makes life hard.