As the nighttime rain drenched us, we stood on our friend and neighbor’s porch and watched in horror as the normally playful 3-inch-deep creek behind our house arose out of its six foot embankment and morphed into a deadly river which engulfed our house on Oct 4, 2015.
We saw trees swept down like they were mere toothpicks.
The sparks of a transformer blowing joined the heavy rain over blue police lights of the brave First Responders risking their lives to save our trapped neighbor.
A constant roar of water punctuated with large, unidentified metallic things slamming around, all night and morning.
The yard where our young kids had played and laughed in the drizzle just 24 hours prior was now a raging, monstrous current.
Flashback an hour prior…
I couldn’t sleep. I stretched and looked through a window to see a river appearing halfway through my backyard. I felt a ball of fear hit me in my stomach, and my first instinct was not “fight or flight” but “freeze.” Logic overtook after a fraction of a second and forced my feet to move to our bedroom to rouse my husband.
“We have to leave and go to the neighbor’s, now. Help me get the kids.” He was still sleepy and mumbled that he needed to shower before church.
“Go look at the backyard.” His eyes grew very wide. I noted the creek had already grown, and would expand very quickly now that it was on flat land. I grabbed the phone and called our friend who lived only two houses away on top of our hill and told her we were on our way up.
I knocked on the door to our exchange daughters’ room and roused them, telling them to be ready to leave in a few minutes and grab what they needed. I turned back and woke my sons. One of my 5-year-olds protested this early waking and was making things slow, when every second counted. His identical twin brother cheerfully said, “It’s a sleepover party for rain!” He snapped awake at the idea of a party and quickly put on his galoshes.
We grabbed some bags I had pre-packed and two my husband had just thrown together. I moved my cat from the enclosed back porch to the front yard and took a five second video documentation of the water flying under the same back porch in the dark.
I grabbed a stick I had left by the front door just in case I needed it to “feel” a few steps in front of me during any potential evacuation. Sure enough, to my dismay, the creek was already growing in the front yard.
My previously cheerful twin was now the one protesting fearfully, “I’m scared of the rain, I don’t want to go.” I used my best calm voice and reassured him I would hold his hand the whole way and it would only be a minute.
Our two exchange students grabbed the other boys’ hands, and my husband hands were full with the larger bags. We schlepped through the water, already halfway through the front yard.
We escaped our house at 3 a.m. and fled by foot to our friend’s house up the hill. Shortly after we arrived, she made the wise suggestion to call all of our neighbors.
Our next door neighbor was still sleeping and didn’t make it out on time. There are many dangers to being stuck in the house — electricity or a gas leak, just to name a few. We barely breathed during the 20 minutes as we watched first responders bravely pull themselves across a rope in the rapids to save him through a window. He had tried to flee a short 15 minutes after us, only to find the river too high and swift at that point. A sweet man, retired from law enforcement, fortunately saved from the waters. The same neighbor who offered us friendly conversations and hugs when our nephew was shot earlier this year. The man whom we traded lawn care.
If we had waited a few minutes longer, it could have been us — my young kids being carried as someone taller held the end of that precarious rope in the dangerous river.
We stayed on the neighbor’s porch, as if glued, watching the destruction for hours until daylight. The water grew higher and higher. Though I had parked both cars up the steep hill, we actually had to move one as water rose 2/3 of the way up — that’s how high the waters got. We watched as our home transformed into a nightmare, instead of a safe haven for our family.
It’s hard fleeing your home in the middle of the night. It’s hard to see the swingset where your children laughed and played the day before being twisted into a mangle of sharp metal. It’s hard watching the echos of happy memories in a place being marred by the violence of flooding. It’s hard being displaced, not knowing where we will next lay our heads. It’s hard to close your eyes and see a vivid image of the river, only to dream of flooding night after night. Clean up is atrocious, smelly, and sad.
However, despite all this, ultimately that flood is NOTHING in comparison of the flood of love from our friends and family, and even strangers. The waters have receded and our happiness will continue. I am able to hug all my loved ones after all is said and done; truly that’s what matters most. We are safe and sound, surrounded by kindness. It’s not limited to just our family — all of Columbia is full of grace. I grieve for those that lost their lives, but rejoice that nothing can take away love, not death or water.
It is miraculous and heartening to see all of these “angels on Earth.”
This outpouring of love reminds me — I am not a flood victim — I am a flood survivor.