Late October brought terrible flooding to my fair city. Many, many people from the low end of the economic spectrum to the higher end lost most, if not all of their belongings. I work in the world of planning for disasters and volunteer in the world of responding to them. I joined multiple volunteers to conduct damage assessments of houses and duplexes. It was truly mind blowing to turn onto street after street seeing nothing but front yards full of people’s personal belongings—all of them wet and dirty. Clothes, musical instruments, children’s toys, books, furniture, carpet, drywall, flooring, computers and other electronics, …the list goes on.
Person after person was found sifting through these things attempting to salvage whatever they could. Tossing things onto the beds of trucks to haul off, taking frequent breaks to sit in the midst of the rubble, wiping tears and sweat away from their faces. There were occasional smiles and random words of encouragement exchanged between friends, family members, and neighbors. Many of these people stopped to share their stories with us. Some showing us videos they took on their cell phones of the floodwater racing through their streets and into their homes at the height of the flooding. They literally had a handful of minutes to seek higher ground (a second storey if they had one or the attic, and ultimately the roof for some). I talked to one family who said they and several other neighbors in one-storey homes ran and knocked on the door of the closest neighbor with a two-storey house. They all hung out upstairs in her bedroom and the balcony off her room watching the raging waters slam into their homes and sweep up their vehicles and whatever else. Most of them had no time to grab anything.
Many people had lived there for years. They’ve seen the creek flood many times, but never to this extent. Some homes had up to 6 feet of water in them at one point. Most people went to bed the night before with the sound of the rain lulling them to sleep. Many became aware of the flooding when they got up for their normal daily routine. Several people stepped out of bed into several inches of water. Others made it all the way to their bathroom to suddenly find themselves standing in a few inches of water, not thinking it was water coming into the house, but a plumbing leak or something to that effect.
Seeing the devastating results in the front yards was depressing but walking into the scene of the crime— inside the houses—was beyond depressing. A few houses had recently been remodeled. One house had just been put on the market for sale. The sign was bowing humbly under the weight of mud out front. The house itself was a loss.
Nearly a month later, many people are still living in their front yards in borrowed or rented RVs. Some people are braving the moldy insides of their homes as they await insurance or disaster assistance. It’s been rather cold lately. Many are relying on space heaters in their uninsulated homes. Hopefully, carbon monoxide poisoning issues will not be the next disaster.
I’m really hoping they will all be resettled by Christmas.
On my way home from work today, I was sitting at an infamously long light and a panhandler was holding up a sign that simply read, “Smile. God bless you.” He appeared to be late 60s maybe early 70s. Had a prosthetic leg and signs of arthritis in his hands. Normally, I pass these people without a glance. I saw this guy a few cars up from me, making his way my way. Just out of the blue, the face of one of my dearly departed grand-uncles flashed in my mind. This man looked nothing like my uncle, but there was something in his smile and general vibe. I had two dollars to my name (literally) in my wallet. I opted to give the man one of the dollars. My uncle smiled in my mind’s eye. Perhaps he knew the man at some point when he was still around? The man was very happy and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. I did the same.
So what is all this rambling about? Thanksgiving.
I’m thankful I’m not living in my yard in an RV or in a mold-filled home with little to no insulation on these cold nights. I’m thankful that my belongings are not ruined from raging floodwaters and that my only car wasn’t swept away into the neighbor’s yard 10 houses away. I’m thankful that I do not have to figure out how to retrieve data from my computer that was under water. I’m thankful I’m not homeless and that I have both of my legs. I’m thankful I was able to show a few people that there are people, complete strangers even, who do care about their well-being and comfort. I’m thankful I had a dollar to share with someone who needed it.
When I was called by one of the volunteer coordinators to help out, I was given the option of doing assessments or helping in one of the shelters that had been set up. I’m used to working in shelters but had never done assessments outside of training. I opted to do this praying that my leg muscles—and the rest of me—would hold up.
I’m really thankful that my wobbly muscles held up during the day-long assessments and that I didn’t end up doing a face plant in someone’s muddy, debris-filled yard because my muscles gave out. I wasn’t worried about embarrassment. I was more concerned about breaking more bones! (My broken toes from May finally stopped hurting last week!)