Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The rains came down and the floods came up...

Tuesday August 29, 2017

I had been glued to the news for days, watching in horror the flooding hurricane Harvey brought to Houston. 


Living 90 miles to the east, I never dreamed our fate would be the same. Two of my siblings and our youngest daughter live in Houston. Anxiously prayers were uttered that they would not flood. Miraculously, all 3 homes stayed dry...and then Harvey set it's sights on us.

Tuesday was a busy day of errands in the rain. We bought some paper towels and chocolate and called it our hurricane supplies. Our home had no standing water in the yard at 11:28 am...15 hours later water would breach our walls.



When Michael & I arrived home around dinner time from town, we were faced with the probable reality of Brittany's home flooding. Michael joined Travis in trench digging behind their apartment in the downpour, but that effort was soon deemed futile. We began putting their furniture up on buckets and gathering everything off bottom shelves in closets and cabinets. 

Children find the adventure in everything...this preperation was exciting to Annabelle, Scarlett, & Madeline (yes she is naked, AGAIN) who had a grand time washing buckets so they would be clean to put in the house under the furniture...seems so silly now. 





As the water breached Brittany & Travis's apartment, 4 year old Scarlett was found running through their house shouting "Yea! We get to swim in our house! 
Mom can I put my swimsuit on?"
The little Tolman family made their last walk up the driveway to our house around 7pm. Brittany said when she closed the door to the home where they had lived for 4 years...it broke her heart. 



After the children were settled in bed upstairs at my house, Brittany, Travis, & Michael went back to continue moving more things in their home up to a higher location. 
After they did everything they could do at their house, we began putting furniture on buckets at my house. Emily Ochoa had evacuated to our home with her 3 children and brother David. They were a great help hauling important belongings upstairs...namely my collection of over 60 family scrapbooks!


Everyone finally went to bed but for me & Michael the terrible waiting began. Rain relentlessly came down in sheets. I watched anxiously as it covered each step up to our porch. Two more inches and it's in the house, one more inch, I would announce to Michael. When it covered the brick trim under the windows at 1:43 am, my heart sank with the realization our house would flood too.

For twenty years I had declared that the whole county would be under water before our house would flood, after all I said, the slab is 2 feet above the state highway in front of our home. Harvey, however had the upper hand. In 3 days around 54 inches of rain was dumped hour after hour in our small east Texas town. One local man measured 57 inches. For a bit of perspective, our annual rain fall is 60 inches.

Michael and I were sitting in the kitchen when the water burst through a under the wall at 2:26 am. It was surreal, like a bad dream you hope to wake up from...all of my feelings of safety and security in our home faded with this new & uninvited invader. As soon as the water entered our home, Michael cut the power. He was beyond exhausted and felt like there was nothing to do but go to bed and see what the morning would bring. 
I could not sleep, so with a flashlight I trudged around our home gathering more things from lower elevations. The most pointless thing I had done before the water came in was lay all of our extra towels and blankets in front of the windows just in case a bit of water seeped through! Again...it seems so silly now.

I filled the stairs with scrapbooks, Michael's genealogy, scriptures he spent years marking, the treasures of our life. A couple of attempts were made to sleep but my mind could not rest. I would tiptoe down the stairs to document the rising water, and again go trudging through our home through the water in the dark gathering things to stack on the stairs which would then be hauled up the stairs. 

The night was endless, the rain endless, and fear filled my heart. Sleep continued to elude me so I continued sloshing through a dark house gathering more important belongings, stacking them on the stairs, then hauling them upstairs to make more room for... more sloshing, gathering, & hauling...it was a long night.


August 30th 

Wednesday morning brought this view of Brittany's apartment from our upstairs window. You can see Travis wading to their home to assess the damage.


The view of our front yard and state highway 200 feet away was no less dramatic. In 20 years we have never had standing water in our yard!


I walked into the playroom to find Annabelle & Scarlett standing in the window looking at their home under water. I wondered if Scarlett thought it still looked fun... 
It didn't take long to realize we could not have 6 adults and 7 children upstairs in 3 rooms with no power and water downstairs! A message went out on Facebook to rescue the Tolman's & Ochoa's by boat. 

David Johnson who evacuated to our house to help his sister Emily with her children, walked to the end of our long driveway and flagged down a boat. The driver turned out to be the son of a family friend, Ben Adams...we were so glad to see him! 
The children thought this was another grand adventure to be rescued by boat, so smiles all around. It is a blessing that little ones see the world through their innocent and trusting eyes. The men went with the children, and the momma's were on the second boat trip with baby Luxton and Grandad, who wanted to make sure they got to safety.


The Tolman & Ochoa refugees were headed to our friends the Hatton's who live just a quarter mile behind us on a country road. They were high and dry and for the time being, still had power. Michael suspected that the railroad tracks had acted like a levy causing our neighborhood flooding...along with 54 inches of rain in 3 days! 
Aubrey Hatton met the boat at the railroad tracks with his tractor and trailer to ferry the refugees to his home. Thank goodness for good guys in boats, good guys with tractors and friends that did not flood! 
Michael helped Ben rescue another family and then came back home with me. We didn't want to leave our home after reports of guys in a green boat attempting a break in on a road very near to us.

Facebook post:
I love good guys in boats like Ben Adams. Tolman's & Emily Ochoa & her crew safely sent to Hatton's who have a dry house & power, via boat & tractor. Michael is staying. Me? I may go later but for now need sleep & a place to have the meltdown I've been trying (& not succeeding) to keep at bay. Thank you to untold family & friends checking in & reaching out. My sister Mitzi literally helped us save as much as we did via text warnings from Utah. We have a foot of nasty water downstairs & poor Brittany has at least 4 in her apartment behind us. God bless the first responders of all kinds & God bless Texas & Louisiana.

As I wandered & sloshed through our water logged home conflicting feelings were beginning to flare...grateful we only got 10 inches of water...guilty that my home didn't flood as much as Brittany's...relieved the children were somewhere safe and dry...unbelievably lonely without them...shocked that my home, my fortress & safe haven had been compromised....frustrated that our recent renovations had been damaged & rendered pointless.





When nightfall came we finished the day with a "romantic" (snarky sigh...) flashlight dinner of cereal, strawberries and thankfully still cold milk out of the fridge...yea for that!

After dark I decided to do a photo shoot of my home from the "flood zone"...it was just a tad bit creepy... 




When we would leave the water and head upstairs, feet and legs were cleaned with Clorox wipes...not the best for skin, but I had visions of flesh eating bacteria and so dry skin seemed a reasonable price to pay.

It was another sleepless night after we heard a great bang at the front door. We grabbed a gun and headed down stairs to find the front door compromised & the frame was cracked. We both felt like someone had tried to break our door. 
Feeling safe...how I missed the familiar feeling.

Thursday August 31st

Facebook post:
Report last night of a green boat breaking in homes on Doty Road. 
To the looters...most of us have guns & are watching our neighbors as best we can, taking pictures of everything. 
Oh and by the way, we are not in the best of moods...


It's amazing what is so very hard to do in the dark...like finding the drill, nails, and a suitable board to secure the front door. When daylight came nailing the door shut was the first order of the day.

Michael & I then ventured into Brittany & Travis's apartment. I shed tears at every turn. They have lived on our property, just down the driveway for 4 years. Building the apartment was a family effort in creativity with buckets of sweat equity. And here it was...
The water peaked at just over the countertops, and 2 days later had just receded 6 inches.








I waded around the front out our home for the first time. My eye caught the magnolia bench still standing stoically in the water on our front porch which brought another round of tears! 

Facebook post:
The strangest things make me break out in tears. This is my magnolia bench that Michael bought me many years ago as a gift. I have moved it several times. It's still standing right here on my front porch. Remember the movie Steel Magnolias? We can do this


Facebook post:
All of our devices are about to be out of power. Michael and I are totally fine. Maybe if the roads are completely clear to my house someone can come get me tomorrow night. The more hot I get the less my husband will like me!
Water has dropped 6-7 inches in our house. Brittany's about 5 inches below kitchen island. According to reports both Nellie's Cottage & Heart of Texas Family Medicine did not flood! Not sure about Flossy's Cottage & the bottom apartment did about a foot. Feeling grateful. On a side note...my pool is open for swimming...anyone?

Meanwhile at the Hatton's, where Brittany & Travis's family were staying....what hurricane? I marveled at the sheep peacefully grazing in the field behind their house, it was as if life had not changed anywhere. What a blessing! The children were able to play outside! The Hatton's had a generator so food stayed cold, and fans blew at night. Small & tender mercies would fill our next few weeks. 


This was the day we had credible information that a 30 ft wall of water was coming our way. The dams north of us were releasing water to avoid a breach and worst disaster. Brittany & Travis had waded through chest deep water to get home & retrieve more of their belongings when we heard the rumor so we made a rescue call & a boat ride back to the Hatton's. With very limited time until the boat came I ran around our upstairs gathering the things I could not bear to leave behind, my two laptops for our family pictures and the bucket of negatives from our life before digital cameras. I was forced to leave that bucket behind for lack of boat space. My every thought was for preservation of our family history in pictures. It was a strange and terrible few moments frantically racing around deciding what I wanted to save from the possible destruction of everything in my home. 
After returning to the Hatton's and gathering more information about the possible threat, the men immediately went back to our homes so Travis could save more of their belongings. Michael stubbornly insisted he would stay at our home for the night. I melted down for the hundredth time, crying inconsolably at the thought of our family being separated and him being in immediate danger. Thankfully he came back and I was much relieved. 

In the face of extreme stress my emotions were taking a beating and I found them hard to manage. As it turned out we did not have a 30ft wall of water come our way. However, those along the rivers experienced dramatic rescues and unprecedented river levels destroying homes and properties. For some, what they carried out in a plastic bag with a few minutes warning was all they were able to save. I had much to be grateful for...how could I complain? We were safe...nothing else mattered.

story to be continued...





















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