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Disasters are both interesting and infrequent. Thus, understanding them usually depends on stories others tell us. Such stories frame our understandings and imaginations. With those stories at hand, we comprehend reality and history on the basis of what everyone knows. At times, however, it is useful to examine what everyone knows.

To create a lasting narrative, disaster provides rich raw material to elaborate. ‘Natural’ disasters involve universal, primordial elements – water, fire, the shaking of the earth. Beyond those physical elements, disasters elicit basic human concerns – death, injury, disruption, broken social relationships, and fractured hope. Ultimate values and meanings can be challenged. Continuity and permanence are challenged. Such crises can lead to new explanations and the reworking of old metaphors. The task here is to take a disaster story, the Biblical flood – often referred to as the Deluge – and to examine its origins, its evolution, and its continuing impact within the Western World. More specifically, it will be argued that the flood story has had a continuing determinative influence on how disasters have been imagined in American society, especially in the ways that imagery has influenced emergency planning.