Obviously my previous 2 posts (both including shots of the St. Vrain water ways we have been enjoying here) were pre-loaded and came up automatically. But these same creeks have been swollen past capacity and caused our evacuation on Thursday afternoon. We are safely back at home now and are all dry, but here’s our story of the flood of 2013.
This was going to be our week of “staying home.” My parents were travelling, so my plan was to drive as little as possible and stay around home. Monday was the failed cross-country practice and run, and then my cousin was in the emergency department across Denver, and I went to be with her. [She’s now fine.] Later in the week I drove to work and home in torrential rains. It’s the first time I’ve ever been on passed by semi trucks on both sides at the same time. I guess if your truck weighs a ton, 18 inches of standing water doesn’t intimidate you. (It sure intimidated me.) By the time I got home from work, I’d already driven approximately 205 miles over three days, most of it in pouring rain.
So Thursday we were really going to stay home. I don’t think the kids even got dressed till after lunch. Sam ran in the morning and mentioned that the creek was really high, but I didn’t turn on the TV and had no idea how bad things were. My parents, watching the national news in their hotel room, called
threatening offering to come home. So I checked the local news. Bad, very bad. But our street was fine. Water flowed by the curbs and the ground was saturated, but the drainage ponds were still empty by us. It didn’t occur to me to pack a bag.
At four, my neighbor called. She had been watching the news and was concerned. Half an hour later, we got a reverse 911 call stating that we were under orders to evacuate. It was mandatory. Trying to keep the fear out of my voice, I told the kids to put some books and their water bottles in their backpacks and to bring their pillows. I called two of my parents’ neighbors who live alone. One was ready to go and bring another elderly neighbor with her. The other wasn’t home.
Once I got the kids in the car, SweetP started to panic. She needed her book. Where was her book? [What book??] I told her it was in my backpack and to hold tight while I ran across to the neighbor’s house to knock on her door. As I was knocking, our neighbor pulled in. And wasn’t going to evacuate. Her driveway was steep, and if anything happened to the basement she wanted to be there to move things upstairs. She wasn’t going to go and didn’t think I had to, either.
Okay, reality check, people.
I may have brought only water and books to hold a family of 6 over for an undetermined length of time in a public shelter, but I wasn’t going to tell my children to ignore a reverse-911 call for a mandatory evacuation. Secondly yes, I was guilty of sitting around in my dry, safe hubris during Hurricane Katrina and calling the person who ignored the evacuation order and then was stranded on top of his house waiting for a boat to come by an idiot. Forgive me. But is there anything in my house worth risking a life? No. And as my other neighbor pointed out this morning, this is true especially if the life I’m risking is the rescue worker who has to come fetch me in a boat. If someone is going to risk her (or his) life for me, it had better be for something I couldn’t avoid.
So we drove to the shelter. Longmont was essentially bisected by the overflowing river, which had cut off north from south. Sam had been on the road for nearly three hours, trying to navigate a maze of flooded/blocked streets in the town he doesn’t know well. He arrived at the house just as we reached the high school serving as a the evacuation shelter, and he was able to pack a few sleeping bags, snacks, and toothbrushes.
The high school was relatively calm. Well, the people were. But many people brought their dogs, and the dogs were not getting along. The humane society was offering free overnight boarding including transportation from the shelter) but since the dogs were all as upset as their people, there was a lot of canine snapping and yapping and lunging. (Side note: I didn’t see a single cat or rabbit or bird or guinea pig cage.) The boys played DS, the girls played with the basketballs and another girl they met, while I tried not to freak out about all the unsupervised children packing each other into ball carts and playing roller derby, and climbing fire escapes on the side of the gym. (Can’t say I was successful there. Turns out I can be an officious, over-controlling helicopter adult in two languages.)
Eventually Sam made it to the shelter, too, and I stopped pacing. Sometime around seven, they called overhead for medical assistance. Sam stayed with the kids, and I went running to help. An older gentleman was having signs of a heart attack, and some of us were able to help him until the paramedics could arrive and get him to the hospital. Later I found out he was one our neighbors, too. As I was returning to our spot in the gym, I heard two of the sheriffs’ deputies say they were going to move us to another shelter, since the high school was going to flood. Seriously?
Thank goodness for Sam. While I choked down my Salvation Army hotdog, he kicked into problem-solving mode. Lots of friends were calling and texting us with offers of beds, but the route out-of-town was a problem. He found us a probably passable route to friends on high ground, and we signed ourselves out of the shelter. By the time we got there, we felt pretty sorry for ourselves: no clean underwear, no pajamas, no word on the neighbors. I was exhausted. Gill tucked us into her room with fleece sheets and fuzzy blankets, and I was asleep almost immediately.
In the morning, we waited for an update on the flood. The news footage was horrible, but where we were the sun was coming out. It is nearly impossible to fathom the geographical variation in the flooding and the enormity of what so many people will be coming home to. Just as we were contemplating going to buy me some hospital shoes for my upcoming night shift, we found a map showing the evacuation area. Our house was no longer included.
The trip back took us a long time.
We stopped for groceries, and SweetP limped around Target in her one remaining flip-flop. My parents’ phone had died, so I was texting updates to their traveling partners. I was able to check in by phone with several of the neighbors who were all safe. After various detours, we made it back to a dry neighborhood and saw friends pumping up their bike tires so they could go for a ride. What do people in Colorado do when they’re stressed? Exercise.
Thanks for all your prayers. Even as I write this, Fort Collins is expecting further flooding, over a hundred people are unaccounted for, and thousands of people are still evacuated. They say more rain is coming over the next two days.
And what about my sense of dislocation? Turns out that I am surrounded by people willing to help us. I can speak the language and use my skills, and one lost flip-flop isn’t going to break the bank. At the end of the day we are all together. Even if everything I own had been ruined in a flooded basement, I have everything I need.