Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Adventure of Seeking Noah

     You no doubt heard about the massive flooding in Colorado. This was one adventure we all could have done without. In the twenty-five plus years we've lived in these beautiful foothills, this was our first experience with the very real fear of flood. It's occurred here before, but not since about 1968.
     It all started when the rain refused to stop. Unusual for Colorado to say the least, but highly unusual for September. Some years we see the creeks rise due to the melting snow from the mountains to our west, if it is a fast melt, it's a lot of runoff. Most of the time, it's a nice slow process with the cold spring nights and bright sunshiny days. Muddy water until it settles down. No big deal.
     But last week we were caught up in days and days of heavy rain. Monsoon season struck hard this year. And wouldn't go away. The ground became saturated. We've never had such green grass in September.
     Leaky basements, sloppy yards, mushrooms grew like crazy - also very odd for here. Not much break in the clouds. Daily we could see the creek rise higher and higher. As the week went on, we saw reports on the news of evacuations, rescues in residential neighborhoods, cars stalling out - then floating away, story after story leading in only one direction. Worse. Areas to our north and east were already experiencing tragic results. Every night we went to bed wondering when the rain running off the Mt. Evans area would result in our creek overtaking the banks. I tend to run a bit on the paranoid side (those who know me, stop laughing), so I packed up the important stuff Thursday night to be ready - just in case. I had heard before bed that Upper Bear Creek was under pre-evac. We would be next. Vital papers, the photos of my new grandson, the jump drive with all my books and stories on it, my laptop, my Kindle, my book contract!!, medicines and changes of clothes for each of us went into cases. Before I went to bed, I looked around and had to decide, "If we flood, what will I miss?" There was a lot, but a new "value" or lack there of was applied in my mind. Terrible feeling.
     Friday morning we received the first reverse 911 call. At 4:06 AM. That just isn't a fun way to wake up. Ron was all set to go into work. Until he left and saw that a yard down a ways from us was flooded. He turned around and came home. We loaded up the evac stuff in the car, grabbed the camera and took a drive a little ways each way in the canyon to see what we were facing.
Creek overran the banks

The bridge leading to the highway. Our way out.
The water usually ran several feel below the bridge, now it was
kissing the underside.

One home down.

Not looking good for their private bridge.

Another bridge going in danger.

Another home being invaded by the creek.

    We went to our friend's home who also happens to be our pastor and wife. The four of us went out driving around again. Then word came out that there was a hole in the dam upstream in the next community. Now we were in a seriously scary situation. All four of us live on a hill on opposite sides of the canyon. We began to mentally calculate the amount of water in the lake, and how far could it possibly reach? Would it be able to fill the canyon and turn our home into beachfront? Would it be able to flood our home? We sit about 30 feet higher in elevation than the creek.
    Most of the day was spent in the turmoil of should we leave? Where would we go? How will we get anywhere? The flooding was closing our canyon in both directions. There was one road out that did not require crossing bridges to escape, but...where would we go? Widespread flooding down the hill to the east and knowing they would not let anyone back in created our quandary. After speaking with a county worker, he also didn't believe the water could reach our home if the dam broke. Neighbors were mulling around, talking to each other, trying to figure out what was going on, and watching the creek rise more and more. Our park was starting to flood and logs of various sizes rocketed downstream. One such log slammed into our bridge so hard the ground shook. 
     Our hearts were breaking as the water moved further into homes along the creek. Homes of our community members. One neighbor in the flood plain, had no words. Fear etched his face not knowing what would happen to their home as they watched the one across from them succumb to the filthy water. Worse yet to hear what was happening around the state, mostly to our north creating more and more fear and anxiety. When would it stop?
     There is a web site that allows you to see the water flow numbers of the creeks. Our creek above the next town up the canyon normally runs at about thirty cfs (cubic feet per second). At its peak over the weekend it ran around 1300 cfs. That water was moving! God help anything that got in the way.
     It churned and roared in the canyon eating away at the banks causing more and more erosion. Small bridges were topping with dirty water. Roads were beginning to be covered by creek water running and racing to the next point. New waterfalls were being created in odd places. Water freed from the confines of the creek bed transformed roads digging new and deeper ruts like never before. Washing them out completely in some areas.
     And the rain continued.
     We found out later, after word had spread far and wide, that an ill informed official had started the information about a hole in the dam. There wasn't a hole. There wasn't anything wrong with the dam. A collective deep sigh of relief could almost be audibly heard in town. It allowed us to step back to process what was happening all around us. The National Guard was called into our area.
     The water continued to rise.
     We got a bit of a break Saturday from the rain. Skies cleared for a while. More relief. But then later that day, the rain returned with a vengeance.
     While at church Sunday morning, rain got heavier and to our west obvious heavy downpour brought another reverse 911 call came out during Sunday school. It was a pre-evacuation order. Announcing it to the congregation, a couple of folks left because of the area where their home was and the prospect of not being able to make it there if they waited. Those of us that were left enjoyed church, and even had a pot luck lunch afterward. Why not? What else was there to do? We hoped Noah was on the way with his ark. Looked like we were going to need it.
     Again, we didn't leave. State Patrol blocked some roads and if you left, you weren't getting back. Of course, all the families that lived on the creek in the flood plain, were gone. They found higher ground with friends or hotels down in the city to ride out the time.
     Weather forecasters were intently watched and listened to. The Guard came into town with sand bags to try and protect a home on the creek. But the water was already in it. At midnight on Sunday, the neighbors banded together filling as many sandbags as they could find. A local company donated all their sand they use for landscaping. The road along the creek was lined with bags and the flooded homes were fortified with more. The water still splashed over the line.
The water receded. It was splashing over these.

     Monday morning brought us the blessed gift of sunshine and our gorgeous Colorado blue sky returned. The threat wasn't over, but it was lessened. Water still roared down the canyon, but levels had lowered some. Seeing some of the sights along the way could sober anyone.
     With the sun shining, a new day, the rain but a memory, life seemed to jump back to normal. People were out walking their dogs, kids played, bikes were riding up and down the canyon. Normal. But then you come across:

a front end loader clearing of a landslide. Bridges are blocked by caution tape, rocks litter the road and especially off to the side where they'd been cleared already, homes still sat in soggy ground. Just when we thought all was well in our canyon again, they barricade our bridge. Some officials say the crack in it was cause for concern. Others say the gas line below it was the concern. But the next afternoon it opened again. Problem over. We have two others, so that is good.

     So many fellow Coloradans are in so much worse shape. People have died in this. Some folks are still unaccounted for, countless homes destroyed, cars floated away from sight, roads are just gone, livestock stranded, some homes hanging by a corner as water rushes below it. Lives are forever changed. Their way of life abruptly halted. All most of us can do is pray. 
     The things that will last in my memory of this un-chosen adventure are the people. The loving, giving hearts of neighbors that worked together to help another. The laughter that can still occur when facing a growing disaster. The hugs among neighbors. The camaraderie in the streets. People helping victims save furniture and belongings. Folks opening their homes to victims. And that's just in our little canyon. Now the entire state is reacting the same way. People want to help. Strangers just showed up at damaged homes to help carry out the items that water destroyed. They are giving money to the Red Cross to help those who have lost everything. Our brave men and women of the National Guard, police departments, fire departments and even county workers are risking their lives to save and rescue those stranded. They are protecting us - from ourselves in some cases. In Frederick, CO, strangers have gathered to clear out the destroyed sheet rock and muddied belongings of a lady they've never met. All because of a plea from a Facebook page. 
     We may not like where the world seems to be heading some days, but when it comes down to it, folks just want to help each other. I think it's in our nature. There is still good in the world. Hopefully, times like this will remind us to always be on the lookout for someone in need of help. It could be you that makes the difference. Adventure can become disaster, but can be turned into blessings.