Friday, March 17, 2017

Flood In The Desert

I didn't take any of these pictures.
A lady who lives in town snapped them and gave me permission to use them.
So...........what are you looking at?
You're looking at a tiny desert town in the midst of a major (albeit short lived) flood..............

We had so much snow this past winter that figuring out where to put it all became a major consideration.
Early in February the weather unexpectedly turned warm - and then freezing cold and snowy again - and then warm again.
And so it went throughout the entire month of February.
Throughout the month we fought melting snow and ice back from the house.
By the time we finally started to get a grip on it the city brought in sand and sand bags.
By that time we didn't need them.
We'd already emptied untold buckets of water.  Emptied the shop vac untold numbers of times.  Moved hoses and pumps around untold numbers of times.
Broken up plenty of ice and shoveled plenty of snow, until finally it was far enough away from the house so as to not be a concern.
As we worked day after day residents drove by and waved.  
We waved back..................

Last Saturday was overcast but warm, and around 1 in the afternoon a lady in back of town called me in a panic.
Her living room was already flooded, the yard was flooded, water was rushing towards them from across the road and could we help.
The sand had been in town for weeks.  When it was dropped off in town there was even an offer to drop sand directly outside their house, since theirs was just about the lowest sitting house in town and it had flooded badly 15 years earlier.
That offer had been turned down and no sandbags had been filled.
This was the same lady who we had helped a good deal a couple of summers ago while her husband was out-of-state sometimes working, but mostly just accumulating girlfriends and DUI's until eventually his union would no longer offer him jobs and he had to come home.
Once he came home we never heard from her again.
Until Saturday.
The impatient woman in me was angered and annoyed at the request of ungratefuls who had been too lazy to proactively care for themselves.
The decent woman in me knew that we had to help.
They were our neighbors and they were in a dire situation.
Yes.  Of course we would help.  What did she need?
She needed sandbags................. 
LC was tied into something else when she called so I headed down without him.
Headed for city hall where the sand and bags had been laid for anyone in town who needed them.
When I arrived two other neighbors were already busily filling and tying sandbags, and the DUI-husband was loading them into the bucket of a tractor.
The roads were a mess by that point - a muddy, swampy, rutted out mess that made travel by regular vehicle beyond city hall challenging and almost impossible.
I joined in with the sand bagging, quickly filling and helping to load them into the bucket.
I knew the roads were a mess but still had no real idea what the back half of town looked like.................
After 90 minutes of non-stop sand bagging everyone decided that may be enough for now, and while the tractor took the last of the sand bags to the house, I left my vehicle at city hall and rode with one of my neighbors to the mans' house.
As soon as we turned the corner and I saw for the first time what the flooding looked like I was stunned.
In a desert, in SE Idaho, I finally understood that our tiny, nothing little community really WAS in a full on flood.
The snow dams in back of town - the frozen dams of hard packed snow and ice that had separated town from BLM land throughout this long winter had given way.
 Those melted dams in return had released an endless amount of runoff that ran like a fast moving river across empty lots, down rutted out gravel roads and through one residents' yard after another, all on its march to this couples' home.......................
From city hall to this couples' home is normally a slow drive that lasts............60 seconds.
On this day it took us about 10 minutes.
Some roads were completely rutted out and filled with tire-sucking mud.
Other roads were completely covered with fast flowing water and we elected to find another route since we could see that portions were completely washed out.
So we meandered, turned around, sometimes barreling through and sometimes tentatively crawling through varying degrees of water and mud.
Who would have thought that such a short ride would have been such an adventure?
Not me.
Not in a thousand years......................
When we finally arrived at their home I immediately knew that they were in deep trouble.
The entire front yard was a swimming pool.
Two guys were spinning their wheels trying unsuccessfully to get an aging pump working.
The sandbags we had filled didn't even BEGIN to stop the flow.
As I watched people milling around unfocused and unsure of what to do I called LC.
Drop what you're doing.  We need you here.
We need the shop vac, both pumps, both 100 foot hoses, call me when you're at the corner and I'll get the guy to bring the tractor over.
The water on the corner by the house is a foot and a half deep and I don't know if it's washed out or not.
LC was already loading the truck by the time I got off the phone and turned my attention back to my frantic neighbors who were still unfocused and unsure.
I walked into the house to see how the lady was doing and the water was seeping in through the front door and already shin deep inside her living room.
She was leaning against the kitchen counter making herself something to eat...............

I looked at the water, looked at the furniture that was all still on the floor, looked at the unused shop vac sitting in the middle of the room, made some inane niceties, told her not to worry, reassured that everyone was working on it and we'd get the water stopped, and then walked back outside.
The house smelled bad.
But it always smelled bad................
Looking up the road I saw LC's truck parked at the corner.
He had parked in the middle of the road and was walking the water-logged intersection, trying to determine the integrity of the road.
As I watched him, he climbed back into the truck and headed our way.
As soon as he backed into the driveway I brought him up-to-speed.
The pumps weren't big but they would slow the water down and we had long enough hoses to move it all to the back of the owners property and across the road away from the house.
That was the first order of business.
Second order was to refocus the sandbags we had across the front of the house (with an emphasis around a large semi-circle close to the front door).  
None of us could stop all the water - it was still coming and coming fast.
Flowing from BLM land, down gravel roads, across fields and yards.
Much of it filling their front yard and seeping into their house but thankfully (because of existing snowbanks in their yard that were still holding) much of it was also being redirected to the right of the house and then downhill towards the race track.
Holy cow - if those snowbanks hadn't still be there........................
With all sandbags focused in a semi circle in front of the house we eventually stopped the continual increase of water up against the house.
With small pumps pumping for all they were worth the semi circle of water drained down to almost nothing.
The yard was still a swimming pool but by this time it was getting late enough in the day that temperatures were beginning to drop.
An hour later everything would be frozen again.
One by one, neighbors who had been there to help had left until there was me and LC, one other neighbor and the DUI-homeowner left outside.
With the worst over I walked back into the house to see how the living room was doing.
Calling as I went (since I was inside someone elses home) I found my way to the living room.
With satisfaction I realized that the water was way down.
The carpets were saturated but (as with outside) the worst was over.
Calling again, I eventually heard the lady call to me.
She was laying down in the bedroom.
From the kitchen I called out more inane niceties and reassurances. 
 I had to get out of there................
It was almost dark by this time.
Everyone had left.
The home owner was sloshing through deep water in the yard, using the tractor to try and pile dirt against the random snowbanks in the front yard.
One more effort to try and redirect water to the right of the house but with so much water it was a losing battle.
But at least for now water was not further invading his home, and that was the best he could hope for.
Before we left we made an offer for the couple to stay with us at our house, if they wanted a warm and dry place to spend the night.
We also offered to help again the next day if the situation turned dire again.
We received a thank you phone call the next day, but  thankfully the worst was now over.
Two days after the flood, it was nearly impossible to tell that half the town had effectively been underwater.......................

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