Before the Evacuation – Day 2

Read: Before the Evacuation – Day 1

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?

Sunday Homestead Update – From Home – Yay!

Yes! This week I am back to doing a Sunday Homestead Update FROM the homestead!!! What a blessing that is!!! AND it is our 200th post! Good timing. 🙂

Off-Grid Living

As far as living back home off-grid goes – it is going SO well! I am SO glad we decided to come back. It hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. Conserving water has even been pretty easy, and has made me fully realize how much water we waste every single day in our normal lives. Granted, my aunt is doing our laundry, I’m sure if I had laundry to do the water situation would be MUCH more uncomfortable. And I’m cheating a bit by using mostly paper plates until we have the water tank. We then burn them in the wood stoves as we use them to heat the house. So it is kind of cushy off-grid living.

Tundra, the farm dog, is very happy to have his barnyard and barn back, as opposed to the attic he was living in during the evacuation. But I think he is a bit bored and missing having his livestock to protect.

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It pretty much just feels like normal life around here, minus the animals, and with a few twists. The biggest inconvenience is the lack of road access really. Of course, the colder it gets the more problems we will have if we can’t get a propane truck in here. So we are praying for a quick road fix, soon, and that the weather will hold out for us. It has definitely been unseasonably warm, which is a blessing as well.

We are back to school with no problems. And I have been focusing on getting the house fully cleaned back up from the chaos, and also the basement flooding.

This weekend we have been working on finishing the flood clean-up down there and then moving all the furniture and storage boxes back down there and out of our living room (thank goodness, I was tired of walking around them). We were very happy that about 7 years ago I went through all of our storage boxes, purged them, and repacked them into plastic bins. So no “stuff” was damaged during the flooding, just flooring. Actually, wait, that is not totally true, my new stove top insert was down there and it got ruined. 😦 I SO wish we had found time to install it before this all happened. But we can’t go back. And I have a stove that works and someday I can get another new stove top. It is not a big deal.

Remember how we just got the guest room painted, decorated, and set up in the basement for my sister’s visit in early August? The guest room flooded and all the carpet had to be removed and it is not the nice guest room anymore. Sigh. So we are just going to store everything in there for now while we deal with the rest of the basement flooding and we will get it carpeted and re-made into a guest room again in a few months.

My husband has also gotten the water system all hooked up this weekend! He can’t tote the water in on the back of his truck yet, but he is bringing it in by the jug (5 gal) several jugs at a time in his truck off-roading in the ditch past a very questionable missing road section (don’t get me started on how I feel about that) and filling the tank slowly but surely. We had some people give us 5 of those jugs to use, so that is convenient.

Look Who is Home!

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The chicks are home! It feels SO good to have them back. We decided, since they only drink about 5 gallons a week, and we have over 100 gallons of rainwater right now, we should bring home all the chickens, starting with the chicks.

They have grown and changed a lot in the almost two weeks they have been gone. They are 6 weeks old now.

The first thing we did when we got them back was check them all over, update the records (we can now start to tell which are roos and which are hens), and change all their leg bands to the next size up. It was so fun to be doing something so “normal” for our farm. And I really enjoyed looking over the records afterwards and seeing better what we have in this flock.

The bad news is that this breeding proved that our rooster is a split wing carrier. You can read more about the genetics of split wing and how it affects our flock in my posts about it here, and here. We will have to make some decisions regarding this and our breeding program.

Out of our 23 chicks we currently have 8 males, 12 females, and 3 still undetermined. As far as our success with our first time ever feather-sexing day-old chicks: we were right on 14 of them, wrong on 6, and unknown whether we were right or wrong on 3 of them. Not horrible, but also clear that we don’t really have it down yet. I am guessing the more you see the better you get. We have only done it on 24 chicks thus far (that extra one is the one that survived the first unsuccessful hatch, and we were right on that one as well).

We are hoping to get the lower coop insulated in the next few weeks and separate the males from the females (the males will go down in the lower coop and the females and unknowns will stay in the growing-out pen in the barn).

I am excited because some of the chicks from the high-altitude eggs are blue or lavender colored. I don’t know which for sure yet, but it is such a pretty color. And it is a color we didn’t have in our flock yet (except one easter egger that I would say is blue/lavender with red/brown markings – there is probably some official name of her color, but I don’t know what it is, she has some lavender lacing around red feathers on her chest, she’s a beautiful bird). So I am excited about that new color. The rest are solid black, or barred, and there is one brown barred.

The adult hens are coming home this afternoon. I can’t wait to have them back too! It will feel SO good to have all my chickens back where they belong.

Garden Update

My sister and I did come back to the house (before we had moved back in) and harvest the garden. We took everything out except the cabbage, brussel sprouts, and one pumpkin plant. We then went to her house and washed, chopped, and froze all the carrots and beans. We handed out lettuce to friends and family (there was WAY more than we could consume in time), and we kept the acorn squash for ourselves.

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The light frosts we have been having have killed the pumpkin patch plants, with several acorn squash on that didn’t ripen. Can I just pull them and get them to ripen on the counter? Or not? I need to look that up. Same with a couple of pumpkins on the garden pumpkin plant – plant dead, unripe pumpkins on.

Right before we evacuated I brought all the herb containers inside (except the big wheelbarrow with mint) and put them in the mud room, since I didn’t know how many months it would be before we were home and want them to overwinter in the mud room. I was shocked to come back to huge growth on all of them.

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I had cut them back majorly and dried the herbs before the flooding and they were just stalks and pathetic little plants left. Now I can do another harvest and drying of them this week!

Flooding

I am sure you have all seen plenty of pictures of the damage around here online and television. But this is a picture I wanted to share. The damage isn’t just about what the water did itself – like rushing and pushing out roads and houses and such, it is also about how much dirt the river moved with it as it went. Unimaginable amounts of dirt have been taken from all over and deposited in the lower areas of water flow.

This little building is about 4 feet by 4 feet and it is some sort of machinery housing for sewer stuff or something. It is about 8 feet tall and has a man-door. The bottom of the building used to sit 4-6 feet ABOVE the level of the stream. That stream turned into a raging river during the flooding. And that raging river brought tons and tons of dirt downstream as it wrecked everything. And this is the building now:

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That is the top of the man-door on the right. It is buried. So you are looking at 12-15 feet deep of dirt that this thing is covered in (because it used to sit above the stream bed). It is CRAZY. I wish I had a picture from before the flood so you could truly grasp what you are seeing here.

Cow Breeding

This week was supposed to be the week that Violet came into heat and we had the AI guy come up to the farm. Well that’s not happening. But something better is! The farm she is staying at during the flood recovery happens to have a miniature beef bull. So Violet is spending some romantic evenings with him and we are hoping she will come home bred. Won’t that be convenient!?

Quilting

With all my “extra” time, since I don’t have all the animals to care for each day now and the garden is pretty much done, I have been working to finish my youngest son’s scrap quilt. This is the final of the four kids’ scrap quilts that I talked about here. I hope to have it done in the next week. My son will be so happy, he has been patiently waiting for this quilt for a long time.

So that is our first Sunday Homestead Update Post-Disaster. I am so glad it was able to come so soon. We are very blessed despite all that is going on. 🙂

The Plan

We have solidified the plan for living off-grid.

The road access is making progress.  There are several breaks in the road and several places where it is fine, so it is a connect-the-dots sort of situation.  They have filled in one gap and there is only one more gap for them to do that would get us road access to our house.  Unfortunately, they have had trouble obtaining supplies, so they probably won’t even start on it for another week.

There will be several stages to our plan, making it easier and easier to live the farther we get through the stages.

Electricity

During the flooding, while we were still in our home, we lost electricity.  It later came back on, but then we were told they were going to shut it off because of safety reasons with all the water and flooding.  They did not end up turning it off, so we still have electric.  However, there may be times during restoration that it will have to be turned off for long periods of time, so part of the plan is a back-up generator.

Electricity is needed to keep our refrigerator and freezer going, as well as for us to cook (we have an electric stove and oven).  We also need electric to run the tank heater to keep our water from freezing in the winter.

Sewer

This one is a somewhat simple answer, we will be using a camping toilet.  We can let gray water go down our pipes from our sinks and tubs and such, just not toilet.

Heating

Our house uses hydronic baseboard  heat.  Water is heated in our boiler (which uses propane) and then forced through the pipes along the baseboards.  We also have two wood burning stoves, one in the dining room and one in the living room.  Those two stoves cannot heat the whole house enough to keep pipes from freezing since they are somewhat isolated from large amounts of the house.

In order to have the heaters work we would need a propane truck to be able to come onto the property, and we would also need pressurized water flow (I will talk about this in the water section).  Once we have both those things, we could have the heat working.  But at first, that won’t work.  So we won’t have heat except from the wood stoves.  This is fine, until it really starts freezing.  Once it gets cold enough, if we still don’t have pressurized water and the ability to re-fill our propane, we will either have to drain the system and winterize it, or we will have to set-up electric space heaters around the house to keep the pipes from freezing.  Winterizing is more likely the choice.  Then we would just move our beds into the living room and live completely in the living room/kitchen/dining room area where the wood stoves are.

Water

This is the big one.

First stage of this is obviously just hauling our water in by the bucket or jug, which is what we are doing now.  This is fine for a while, but won’t work long-term for a family of 6, especially when the winter hits, and definitely doesn’t allow us to get all the animals back because then we also have to haul water in for them.  The dogs and cats came with us right away, and some smaller animals can come in now because we still have full rain barrels that we can use to water them (until it starts freezing or they run out), but the rest will have to wait for more water.

So we are going to use water tanks.  We will put one big one in our mud room, and then put another one on the back of my husband’s truck (he will need safe road access to the house).  He will fill the one on his truck and then use that one to fill the one in our house.  We can put an electric tank-heater in it to keep it from freezing.  We can fill buckets from this tank and haul them into the house at first, but ideally we would like to have it hooked to the house pipe system so we could use our heaters and have water coming out of the faucets.

To do this we need to pressurize it because our system is pressurized normally by the town water system.  So we will get a water pressurizer and hook it, and the tank, up to the whole system.  This would also give us hot water (if we had propane), because the hot water heater is hooked to the whole system.

And, having that tank of water will also mean we can easily bring back all the small animals; the chickens and rabbits for sure, and maybe the sheep.  But the cow must wait until we have full utilities again because of her high water needs.

One tank has already been brought in, and the pressure pump is arriving today.  So this weekend we will start doing all the hook-up.  We also have to frame walls and a door around the tank in the mud room because it needs to be in darkness so we don’t have to deal with algae issues.  The mud room has two glass doors and tons of sunlight comes in all year long.  So we will do that this weekend too.

So that is our plan.  I am sure it will probably evolve and change as we go through this and as we get more and more information about how long it will really be before we have back our town utilities.  But it is a start.

 

Before the Evacuation – Day 1

It had been raining three days solid. At first it was a welcome event, but by Wednesday, September 11th, I was pretty sick of it. The barnyard was a sloppy mess and the animals had been closed in for the last two days.

My mother’s little apartment, which takes up half of our basement, hadn’t flooded though. That was a blessing since it sometimes would flood during major rainfall for days on end. I called her and told her it wasn’t flooding and that we thought the last fix my husband tried had worked. She was away at the time.

My husband and I crawled into bed, exhausted from another long several days. We discussed the new fence we were planning to build the coming weekend for the barnyard, and the chicken selection, and his work. Then we went to sleep, yet again listening to the rain pouring down outside. It was a normal night for us, but the morning would turn our world upside down.

The alarm went off at 6 am, like always. I was startled because my phone immediately began blinging in texts right away. I use the “do not disturb” feature so I don’t receive calls or texts from 10 pm to 6 am. My husband headed out to milk the cow while I sleepily checked my texts. As I pushed the keys on my phone I noticed a strange noise. I couldn’t put my finger on what the subtle and constant noise was exactly, but I knew I had heard it before, just not at our house.

The texts were from my mom. They said something about using the shop vac to clean up the flooding in her apartment and they told where extra towels were for the mess. I texted her back that, like I said the day before, her apartment wasn’t flooding. While I waited for a response I noticed some other texts I had received in the middle of the night from an unknown number. There were voicemails too. I checked them out and my stomach dropped. They were reverse 911s telling us that the stream in our area was breeching its banks and causing some flooding. It was a “be aware” type message, not instructions to do anything. As my phone blinged in a response from my mom I thought “what IS that incessant noise!?” I was still hearing a constant subtle noise.

The text from my mom said my sister that lives near us had texted her that school was canceled because of major flooding in the area. So she assumed that her apartment was flooding.

Just then my husband walked in, pale as a ghost. I figured he had seen the reverse 911s on his phone too and that was why he looked upset. I told him what I had heard and he listened, processing it all. Then I finished with “what the heck is that noise!?”
Like in a dramatic movie, he walked over to the glass door and as he threw open the curtains he said “the stream!” I was suddenly very aware of why he was so pale.

The stream that runs about 100 yards down the mountainside from our house, that we normally can barely see through the trees, was now a raging river. The noise was the rushing water. The sound of a waterfall. The stream is normally anywhere from 2-10 feet wide and 1/2 – 3 feet deep along its path. It was now 20-30 feet wide and probably 10-? Feet deep. It was rushing, frothing, muddy water taking out everything in its path as it went. Trees, bushes, buildings, pipes, everything.

“We will be fine. We are on a mountainside. We will be fine.” I said, more to calm myself than to my husband.

The kids began waking up and we had breakfast. All the while I was getting a million texts from friends and family with news of the destruction that they were seeing or hearing from others. We heard about road closures and evacuations. But not where we lived.

My husband and I stood glued to the window, watching the stream-turned-raging-river as it tore through the landscape. It was still pouring rain.
We decided we should go to the store real quick to get some food in case this became a major issue. We were shocked when we drove away from our house and saw that it was already a major issue. A MAJOR issue. The river was over the road in several places, there was no way out. We were trapped.

We were still constantly calling and texting with people, letting them know we were ok and hearing what was going on outside of our view. I got a text from a friend saying that water supply was knocked out nearby. We quickly went to work filling every single jar, bucket, pitcher, and bowl we had with fresh water from the faucet. I was using the tub, my husband was using the kitchen sink. As we were filling them all of a sudden the water pressure dropped 75%. “There goes the main!” My husband yelled from the kitchen. Referring to the fact that the water main to our area had just broken. We finished filling everything with what little pressure we had left.

Then we heard a distant explosion and the power went out. Both the outdoor dog and the indoor dog started barking like crazy. We ran out on the porch in time to hear three more explosions and see what looked like static electric balls of fire and some smoke about 1/2 mile down the road.

“The transformer just fell in the water.” My husband said. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that we were fine. Safe, sound, out of the way of the flooding, with plenty of food and water to last us several days.

We tried to busy ourselves with normal life and chores. In the early afternoon our power came back on. We were very happy about that. But our cell and wifi went down. So we were isolated from communication. We found some flooding in the basement, the opposite end from my mother’s apartment. That side had never flooded before and my mom’s side was totally dry. Ironic. My husband and I moved all the storage boxes and the furniture upstairs, ripped up the carpet, shoved it out the window, and shop vacuumed the water up. He also went outside and tried to divert as much water as possible away from that end of the house.

We spent the rest of the day playing board games, reading aloud from some library books we had just gotten, and trying to stay calm. We vacuumed the basement water every half-hour.

We went to sleep for the fourth day in a row to the sound of pouring rain. But this time, it was accompanied by the rushing river waterfall sound.

Rain

I used to love the sound of rain. Especially during years of drought. Rain meant the hope of an end to the drought. It meant life for the plants. I would hear it and get a smile on my face and a light feeling in my heart. I would run to the windows to watch it. I would lie awake listening to it hit the roof in the stillness of the night. I would throw open the windows and let in the clean, cool, fresh air; taking it in deeply through my nose. The kids and I would go out in rain and walk, run, or even dance. We loved it.

Rain brings new feelings now. Rain brings anxiety, tighteness, and heaviness in our hearts. Rain brings tears to the children’s eyes. It isn’t something we think through, it is an automatic response. When we hear the sounds, or see the sights that indicate rain we all tense up. My stomach ties itself in a knot. My muscles tighten. The kids look at me with fear in their eyes. I smile back. I try to comfort. Deep down they know I am faking. They start to cry. We all hold each other. We say the words. We don’t believe them, but we say them anyway, hoping to convince ourselves of the truth. “It is ok. Rain is good. The earth needs rain. Just because it is raining doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen to us.”

I wish it would stop raining for awhile. Give us time to heal.

It isn’t raining like it was during the flooding, but it has rained at least a little bit every day since then. At this point I feel like it signals possibly more time until we can go back to our real life. Because every drop is making the drying up and recovery last longer.

I wonder how long it will be before the rain doesn’t trigger these fears and negative emotions in us? Will rain ever feel the same?