We set the alarm and got up hourly to vacuum the water in the basement. Between that, the noise of the storm and the river, our own anxiety, and the kids unsettled sleep, we got very little sleep.
Friday morning, September 13, we found that the basement flooding had increased overnight. It was now entering the house through two different walls. We moved even more stuff, tore out even more flooring, and vacuumed. It took a couple of hours. We were so thankful for the electricity to run the vacuum.
Also, the water had completely stopped flowing at the faucets. So my husband turned us off from the water source so that our water heater tanks wouldn’t back flow and drain back into the main and thus into the river. That gave us a for sure 100 gallons more of clean drinking water in our water heater and my mom’s apartment water heater. With no water flowing, we used rainwater to flush the toilets. But we figured it was only a matter of time before the sewer main broke and we would need to stop using the toilet all-together, if it hadn’t happened already.
The rain stopped and the sun actually broke through, so we decided to go for a walk to see what we could see. Halfway down our driveway we began to see how immense the destruction was. It took our breath away. Having grown up in this very house and location I have looked at pretty much the same scenery for the majority of a few decades. To see it all so changed. SO changed. It was shocking. It didn’t look at all the same. We reached the main road (what was left of it), where we saw a few other people milling around too; our neighbors. Everyone’s face had the same, numb, glazed-over look. We were all in complete and utter shock. The river (previously a stream) was raging; a gross brown color with swift moving rapids. Trees, bushes, fields, roads, all gone and covered with the rushing water. There was tons of debris caught up on the few bushes and trees that held up against the water. We saw parts of houses, trusses, roofing, chunks of porch, a propane tank, blankets, coolers, barbeques…all carried down the river. It stunk. The kids, in their outright way, verbalized it immediately. It smelled like dead fish, and sewage, and moldy moisture. It was gross. We stood there, in shock, taking it all in.
An acquaintance of my husband called to us as he walked over. He asked how we were, and we him. I asked him if he had internet or any communication because I was worried, knowing my family (parents and sisters in other states) were probably sick with worry about us since they had no contact for over 24 hours. He said he did. I typed their email into his phone and he agreed to email them for me when he got home. That email never got sent because when he got home his internet was down (I found that out days later).
We could see a huge gash in the road about 1/3 mile away. We decided to walk down towards it. I took pictures as we went, still shocked at what we were seeing. As we closed in on the break I looked and saw a man making his way around the gap. Could it be!? No, it couldn’t. But yes, it was! I yelled (not meaning to, just out of excitement) “Look, it’s Opa!!!” It was my father-in-law, hiking in to see if we were ok. We all ran to him, and he to us and – like in a movie – we met into a big group hug. There were tears, for sure. It was so relieving to see family, and he was so relieved to see we were ok. It was a beautiful moment, and for just a second the heavy weight of what was happening was lifted off our shoulders.
He told us about the break in the road, and another farther down (we couldn’t see that far due to mountain curves). He said his truck was on the other side of all that mess. He agreed to meet us twice a day, 9am and 3 pm, to bring us jugs of water. We would hike or bike to the other side of the break and he would meet us there with the truck. He could also update us with what was going on outside of our little isolated area. He told us there were meetings being held in the mornings where the authorities updated everyone on what was going on. We said a bitter-sweet goodbye and hiked back home. Our spirits were lifted by seeing family, and we felt confidant that with his help to get us water we would be able to survive this. In our minds it still felt like it would just be a few days until things started getting fixed up. Despite the destruction we saw with our own eyes, we were still holding onto delusions that this would just be like some of the major blizzards we had had in the past – over and back to mostly normal in a week or so.
The gravity of it all had yet to hit us.
About a week before the disaster, we had found out that there had been several series of books written that precluded and followed the Little House on the Prairie series of books that we loved. They followed the stories of Laura Ingalls great-grandma, grandma, mother, and her daughter. We loved the original series so much that we decided we wanted to read these others. So I had ordered a couple of the books through the inter-library loan and we had received them the day before the disaster started. Having them was such a blessing! Several times throughout the days before the evacuation (which seemed so long) we would sit down together and read aloud a chapter or two.
We were in the process of reading one of the books early Friday afternoon when we heard a wonderful sound. The sound of a helicopter! Our area had been completely cut off from the rest of the world because of the flooding and the sound of a helicopter meant hope to us. It meant food, water, supplies…help. We all ran out on the porch and watched it fly low overhead. It was a Blackhawk.
My husband decided he wanted to leave earlier than the planned meeting with his dad. He wanted to check on my aunt, get the water, and check on some friends of ours. So he packed up his backpack, got on his bike, and headed out.
It was scary to be alone. I was so scared that he might not be able to get back to me. And for a moment later in the afternoon, that fear was reality.
After he left I tried to busy myself and the kids by playing outside. It was sunny and warm and beautiful out. We played on their play set, interacted with the livestock, and worked in the garden. A few more times we saw the helicopter go over, and we saw a different one go over as well. It felt like maybe everything was going to get better from there. Maybe the worst was over. I contemplated the food and water situation while I watched the kids play and the hens peck and forage. From what I could estimate, we had enough rainwater and feed for all the animals to last at least 5 days. And really, as far as feed went, we were set for months except for rabbit pellets and chicken feed. Water was the problem. But surely we would be able to have water within 5 days, right? I was still not understanding the immensity of what was happening. It seemed like the worst was over and rebuilding would start quickly.
I had no idea that we were in the eye of the storm.
My husband arrived back on his bike late that afternoon with plenty to tell about his adventure. He had ridden to his father’s office and borrowed his truck. Then he had visited my aunt, who was fine and still had all her utilities. Then he checked on our friends, who were also fine. It seemed we were definitely the worst off of anybody we knew. and anyone in our immediate vicinity. They gave him a toddler trailer for the bike to haul the water jugs in. Then he went back to his Dad’s and his Dad drove him back to the barricade that the police had set up where the road had gone out. As they pulled up they noticed an officer posted at the barricade. My husband began unloading the bike and trailer and water and the officer came over to him.
All we can guess is that the officer thought that he was going to attempt to ride past the barrier and by the big section of road that was out, when really he was going to cross-country ride over the mountain, just the way he had come out. There was nothing at all dangerous about him riding back into our area as long as he stayed away from the road and the river, which is exactly how he got out and how he was planning to get back in.
The officer was very aggressive when he approached and said “Where do you think you are going on that bike!? You cannot go in there!” (Referring to the area that was our neighborhood).
Before my husband left, I had told him of my fear that he might not make it back somehow. He is normally a very laid back, slow to speak guy, but I think the stress and the fact that my fear was staring him in the face brought out the protector in him and he got defensive.
“My family is in there and I am bringing in water and I WILL GO IN THERE no matter what!” He stated without hesitation. His dad, trying to help, said, “His wife and kids are in there, you can’t prevent him from going. He is going.”
The officer said, “I am giving you a lawful order and am within my power to arrest you if you try to cross this barrier!”
My husband climbed on his bike and said “I’m not crossing the barrier, but I’m going in, over the mountain. And you are not keeping me from my family.”
At that he rode off quickly up the mountainside and the officer went and got into his car.
When I heard that story I started crying. My fear had almost come to fruition, although I know that he would have done anything and everything in his power to get back into us. I was now absolutely terrified of him leaving again. What if I was stranded with the children and animals alone without him!?
After we got the kids in bed he told me that his parents really wanted us to evacuate. At least the kids and I. They said more rain was coming Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday and the flooding would get worse. They wanted us out of our area before that happened. But what about the animals? They don’t really understand us and our homesteading ways and I don’t know exactly what they thought we should do with the animals. I think they didn’t really care. They wanted their family safe and away from harm.
We discussed my husband staying and the kids and I leaving. But we just couldn’t split the family during a time like this. We felt it was important for us to stay together, in or out. We decided to continue to wait it out.
If we were in danger the police would come knock on our door and tell us to evacuate, right?