We awoke Saturday morning, after a long night of vacuuming water in the basement every hour, to a clear blue sky. The flood waters were still raging. We took care of the livestock and tried to go about “normal” activities. Then, at about 9 am, we looked out the window and saw two officers hiking up our driveway. My stomach dropped and I looked at my husband. We both hurried to the front door to meet the officers there.
They said that we were not being evacuated, but that they were walking the neighborhood making sure everyone was alright and no one needed help. We said we were doing fine, and that we had water and all we needed. They again said we were not being evacuated and went on their way.
I was very relieved. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. We could stay.
Almost immediately after they left, a friend of ours walked up to the house. He said he heard that our area was being evacuated so he came to help. What? We were just told we were NOT being evacuated. He said that National Guard Hummers were already starting to help people near us evacuate. My husband decided he was going to bike to town for the morning disaster meeting to find out exactly what was going on and whether we were, or were not being evacuated. Because of the incident the day before, with him having a little trouble getting back home, I was terrified to have him leave again. I was so afraid something would happen and he wouldn’t be able to get back to us. But I prayed, and felt peace wash over me. I smiled and hugged him as he left.
While he was gone, the kids and I spent more time in the yard. We worked in the garden, played with the animals, and soaked in the beautiful weather. If it wasn’t for the helicopters flying overhead and the sound of the raging river, it would have felt almost like a normal day.
I was filling a bucket with water from the rain barrel to water the animals when my husband came riding up the driveway. As he neared the yard we made eye contact and I knew. I could tell by his face that things were not good, that he was carrying bad news and a heavy emotional burden with him. We left the kids to play in the yard and went inside to talk.
First, he told me there was a lot more damage. That even though the rain had stopped, the floodwaters were still just as high and they had taken out more and more of the roads. He said the sewer main was broken and that we couldn’t use that anymore. He said that at the meeting they said that it would be 3-9 months until they would be able to restore utilities and roads to our area.
3-9 months. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I sunk down onto the floor. 3-9 months. Suddenly, the weight of it all was realized. This wasn’t just a week-long blizzard. This wasn’t going to be fixed easily or soon. This was huge. We were experience a real life natural disaster. Like the ones I had seen on TV. They were not going to be able to have water to us for 3 months. And we had no roads to get water in on. I knew what he was going to say next before he said it. I swallowed hard, urging my stomach to not bring my breakfast back up.
“They are evacuating our area. It is not mandatory, and I already know of some people not leaving, but they are strongly recommending we leave.” Silence. We just sat there in silence. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. I felt frozen, and I swallowed hard again. My mind raced back to the wildfires, and how I had said I couldn’t even think about evacuating our whole farm because it was just too scary. And here I was, facing the very fear that I couldn’t even think about before. The room spun.
“More rain is coming you know. Tonight and tomorrow. If the main access road goes we will be totally surrounded by water and they will have to airlift us out. If that happens….well, you know what that means.”
Yes, I knew what that meant. It meant we would have to leave all the animals to starve. They couldn’t airlift the animals out. I pictured dumping entire bags of feed out, filling waterers as full as possible, and flying away, not knowing. Or the other option, opening the gates and letting them go…to likely be lost, starved, and eated by predators. I shook my head and swallowed hard again. No. We couldn’t let it come to that.
More silence. Then he started again. “And they are saying they are likely going to turn our power off. We wont have any electricity. They say it is a safety thing with all the water and them needing to get crews in here to fix things. Honey, we need to get the animals out of here. We have no way to provide them with water. The rain barrels will run out eventually, and then what? I can’t haul in enough water one 5-gallon bucket at a time. And if the main access road goes…well, we just can’t take the risk. We have to get them out of here. Starting with the large ones, the cows and sheep. They go first.”
I continued to sit, silently and in total shock. I prayed for strength. And then, I felt the kick in the pants, and I got up, ready to do what needed to be done. We decided that I would ride my bike out to the place they were evacuating large animals to and get them to help us bring a trailer as close as possible for the cows and sheep. While I was doing that, my husband would prepare the animals and feed to go and the kids would start packing.
We went and started getting my bike out and called the kids over. My husband told them we were being evacuated. Immediately my oldest daughter burst into tears, then the younger followed suit. The tears my body desperately wanted to cry choked up in my throat as they flew into my arms. A few slid down my cheek and I looked at my husband, trying to regain composure. I swallowed hard again, this would be a day of a lot of swallowing. My body’s first response to these types of things is always to throw up. I pulled it together and plastered on a smile. “It’s ok. We are safe. We can pretend we are going on a vacation over to Opa’s house. There will be different toys to play with, and you will get to sleep in different rooms. We will make it fun.”
“What about my animals!?” She cried, sobbing into my shirt. I gulped. I didn’t know all the answers that they needed to hear. I just didn’t know what to say. I don’t lie to my kids, I am always very straightforward. But I had no answer. Lord, give me words.
“We are going to evacuate them too. I don’t know how exactly it will all work, but we are going to do our very best to get them all out safely.” More sobbing. Then my husband moved towards us, he gently peeled the girls off of me, saying that I needed to get going because we didn’t have much time. They calmed themselves and I asked them to please be very helpful to Daddy while I was gone, packing up our stuff to leave.
I got on the bike and rode, trying to take in and process the destruction around me as I went, but my mind and heart were back at our home, worried for my kids. The wind on my face helped. It brought me into the real world. I saw pieces of houses, personal belongings, strewn along the river. I saw the National Guard Hummers, loaded with people and their possessions. I saw people walking along pulling rolling suitcases behind them, with cats in carriers and dogs on leashes. Everyone’s faces were blank and shocked and overwhelmed.
I got to the evacuation location for large animals, the fairgrounds. No one was there. I decided to ride on to my in-laws office and borrow their car. I told them we were evacuating and then went quickly to my Aunt’s house, who lived close-by. She was fine and told me she had internet. I told her to email my family and tell them we were evacuating. I then headed to the fire department. I didn’t know where else to go for help to get a trailer since there was no one at the fairgrounds.
There were a lot of people at the firehouse. Mostly volunteers ready and waiting to help. Unfortunately, none of them knew what to do about livestock and getting us a trailer. As I have said before, our area isn’t a big ag area. The only livestock around besides ours are a few horses. They tried getting a hold of people on the radio that could help, with no results. I watched out the window as dark clouds began to roll in. My eyes threatened to betray me to everyone standing there. The tears filled up to the brims. I wiped them quickly, wanting to be stronger than I was, especially in front of so many strangers. The rain was coming and it felt like a huge monster waiting to swallow me up. We were racing against the clock to get them all out and safe. And we were going to be doing it in the rain. It felt impossible.
Then a man walked in the room and asked what was going on (referring to me standing there, shaking and trying not to cry). We told him we needed a trailer to evacuate livestock. He said he had access to one. Since there was no way to communicate (no cell and no landlines) we agreed to meet at the barrier in one hour.
I rushed, in the car, back to the barrier, parked it, and hiked back to the property as quickly as I could. Once there, I told my husband that the trailer would be at the barrier soon. We needed to get the sheep and cows out the 3/4 of a mile to the barrier quickly.
What about the small animals? What were we going to do with them? Boxes? Crates? How could we possibly get 6 adult rabbits that could not be put together in containers, plus 9 baby rabbits out? How could we get 50 chickens out? And on foot, hiking 3/4 of a mile!? I verbalized these things to him in a rush as we were running around grabbing halters and stuff, preparing to leave with the large livestock.
He said we needed to seriously start considering cutting down the numbers (read: butchering some of the chickens and rabbits in order to not have to evacuate so many animals. Bringing the numbers down to more manageable sizes.) My heart lurched. No. I couldn’t think about that right now. I pushed it down, deep down inside of me and slammed the door on it and then double bolted the lock. Right now, we needed to focus on getting the large animals out, along with the kids. He told me that he had heard there was a way he could 4-wheel/off-road his truck over the mountain, through the forest, and get it out. So he loaded a couple of bales of hay, and the sheep, into the back of his truck (it has a topper). Then he grabbed Violet, and our friend took Ferdinand, both on halters, and they started walking them out. I drove the truck with the sheep most of the way, with the kids all in the truck with me, and then left it parked before the difficult, 4-wheeling/off-road part of the drive. The kids and I walked the rest of the way out to my in-laws car that was parked on the other side. The kids sat in the car, while I held Violet so my husband could walk back in and drive the truck over the mountain and out.
It was time for the trailer to be there and it still hadn’t arrived. We thought maybe the guy wasn’t able to get it like he thought. Violet and Ferdi were very antsy. They were not accustomed to being haltered, and they had now been lead 3/4 of a mile through destruction and were standing on a road with helicopters overhead, hummers, and people everywhere. My husband decided to just start walking to the fairgrounds, hoping the trailer would meet them along the way. The cow wanted to move, to not stand still, so he let her move by walking towards the fairgrounds. I followed behind in my in-laws vehicle with the kids.
As I creeped along in the car, watching my husband walking our cow down the road, I remembered a comment I had made in many conversations over the last year or more. With the major drought in our area, and the wildfires, evacuation because of wildfire has often been a topic of conversations, and the fact that we don’t have a livestock trailer comes up. I had, many times, said “If we have to evacuate, my husband will literally have to walk the cow down the road. I can’t even think about it, it is so stressful!”
Here I was, watching him do exactly that. One of my worst fears, having to evacuate all these animals and not having a trailer, was being lived out right in front of my eyes. And then I thought, hmmm, we are doing it, and surviving it, and it’s not so bad. Not fun by any means, miserable in fact, but we are getting through it. That thought bolstered me, at least a little bit, I knew that no matter what, we were going to be ok. We were going to get through this.