July 21, 2012

Final Flood Post (it's a long one)


In the morning of Jan 11th we evacuated. In the afternoon of the 13th we finally got back in. Under normal conditions I can get to my mother-in-law's house in about 2 min. This day it took us about 45, going through and around other cities to get there. Our road already looked like a war zone, and would continue to do so for weeks. Cars and trucks lined the streets, with people walking in and out of destroyed homes. We pulled up to our house and noticed a high water line on our bricks and that even our plants and yard looked all dirty.


Walking up to our door felt so surreal - frankly the whole experience was so surreal. We were so eager to finally see inside, but also dreading what we'd find. My first two impressions were that it looked like an earthquake had hit - furniture was piled up everywhere, toppled over and jammed up in the window and in strange angles. The other thing that stood out to me was it wasn't as dirty as I expected. There was muddy water still lingering on the floor, but I think I had expected to see a foot of mud, or mud all over the walls. 


We walked through in a daze, noting what had survived and what had toppled over. Our dining room table, chairs, fridge, bookshelves...etc had all crashed over and were broken apart, and yet a few of our statues and even glass decorations were just laying in the muddy carpet all intact. It looked like the water had reached about 5 feet in most of the rooms, some higher depending on the furniture and what not. Everything we had piled on the bed and countertops was ruined, and yet the very tops of our closets hadn't been reached. We couldn't even get into the nursery intially because the crib and changing table and other furniture had jammed against the door which felt like it was going to break - as we tried to get in. The whole house smelled like rotten food and garbage and mud. 


After taking a moment to soak in the condition of our house we began desperately wringing out our clothes and stuffing them in garbage bags. We hoped if we could get them home to wash that we might be able to salvage the majority of them. (Imagine the effort and cost of replacing your entire wardrobe). We got as much as we could then drove back to Michaela's house. The power was still out there, but they said they'd start soaking our things and even start washing by hand as we went back for a second load. We worked as quickly as we could with what light we had left. 


Getting the baby clothes out was especially unpleasant because the floor was covered with exploded diapers - unused. They come with these little beads now that soak up the moisture and soaking in all the mud water for a few days had caused the gel-beads to burst out and cover the floor. So each step your foot would squish through all these little beads. I kept reminding myself it could be worse (they could be dirty diapers) and to try and not be so grossed out with every squishy step. 


We loaded up the car with as much as we could take. We got back to his mom's house and one of our prayers was answered. Shortly before arriving the power had come back on. With two car load of things to clean and it already getting dark - this was a huge blessing to us. It also meant that we could run the washing machine. And that poor appliance never got a break. Gabriel and Michaela stopped counting after about 60 loads of laundry that week and I never even counted the loads I did. We even ended up sending out our clothes to sweet friends in the ward who hadn't flooded but were hoping to help us. 


One heartbreaking discovery was Varian's bins of journals and mission photos and letters that he had in the garage. I felt sick about them, as that was the main thing I tried to save when we evacuated. I hadn't known they were out there. Michaela decided she would try and save the journals. She began pulling them apart page by page to let them dry out and hopefully recover them later. As soon as we could we joined her and were up till 3 or 4 that night laying papers out sheet by sheet in the house, under the covered patio, in the garage - everywhere we could find. Some of the photos didn't make it, and many are much worse for wear, but we did salvage a lot, and all the papers are now stacked up in a bin, still waiting to be copied and reorganized. But at least they weren't completely ruined.  


The next morning the main roads were expected to be cleared and we thought we might have helpers there at the house. I wanted to get there early to try and salvage what we could - and not just have everything thrown away. To our surprise over 30 people showed up that day from our LDS ward just because they thought that we could use the help. Also family members and friends came by to help us load things up and start cleaning. 

I ran around frantically making piles of things we wanted to try and save, while all these sweet ladies washed all our kitchen dishes outside with our hose and all these men lifted out the fridge and the beds and dressers and heavy broken furniture. 


We bagged up all that we thought we could take, and loaded up people's cars with things to take back to Michaela's house for disinfecting. 


We were so overwhelmed by the level of sacrifice and generosity shown that day and over the next few weeks. I don't know what I would have done had we not had Varian's mom's house to crash and set up our recovery camp. They also saved me by watching over Jaren while Varian and I worked desperately to disinfect and salvage what we could. So many people had been forced to evacuate to the fair grounds and all sleep on mattresses in this giant warehouse. I went there to register (and receive a box of emergency toiletries) and shuddered at the idea of having to stay there and have all the things back home just rot away. Although, bless the hearts of all the volunteers that were there, helping the flood victims. There were so many volunteers and already so many piles of donations and food to help us all get through this crisis. 


The local and national government was amazing over the next few weeks. They organized so many donations and financial help to all those who had been flooded. They arranged for giant dump trucks to come and take away all the garbage lining the curbs. So many organizations made care packages and gave away donations to help us make it through. It was overwhelming.


As heartbreaking as it all was I have never felt so loved or watched over. I so distinctly felt all the love and support and strength from people praying for us back home. So many people long distance organized ways to help us and get us back on our feet. So many of Varian's family and our friends there  sacrificed so much to help us. Hours of labor of love were spent by so many to help us clean our things and get us back on our feet. My sister Mandie back home organized donations to be sent to us that helped us replace so much of what we had lost. Chad and Felicity my sweet in-laws organized donations from people in Sydney to help us out. Hmm...maybe I shouldn't keep listing names because it may never end. I can't even begin to list all the help we got from the Aston family, and how much my family back home helped us. We will forever be grateful to all their support and generosity. 


Even strangers off the street would meet us, open up their wallets, pull out bills and tell us good luck. People would walk the streets with cleaning supplies or food to give us, even toilet paper. I mentioned as my facebook status that it was 16 months after the floods that I finally had to buy my own toilet paper because so much had been donated to us. An organization called Connected, set up a giant warehouse of donated clothes, furniture, toys, books, appliances...etc. where flood victims could just walk through with shopping carts and fill up anything that you wanted for free. They gave us so much it was incredible!


I just can't even begin to tell you how blessed we were, and how blessed we felt. I was so shockingly calm over the whole thing. Frankly it took me a few days before I even had a good cry over it - and that was when my naive bubble of thinking we'd be back in our house in a few days was burst. When we saw all the damage and realized all the repairs that would need to take place and how busy the insurance companies would be to organize it - we realized it could be months before we were back in. That night I had a little break down at feeling so homeless and not knowing what the future held. 


But even that was quickly solved. After a week or so we heard from our insurance company that they would pay for us to rent out a new place while we waited for our home to be rebuilt. Varian works with a girl name Crissy, who she and her husband Nathaniel are some of our dear friends, and they just happened to have one side of a duplex that was vacant and they told us we could stay there on a month to month contract until we could get back into our home. It all fell in our lap really and ended up being such a blessing. (In the next post I'll write more about the blessings of moving where we did).


The next few weeks we worked harder than I think I have ever worked. We were so hot and tired and covered in flood water and disinfectant. My arms broke out in a rash with all the heat, nasty water and chemicals. We would stay up as late as we could manage cleaning and doing more and more laundry and then take turns sitting up with Jaren in the night. 


He was so little and I think he could just sense that his world had been turned upside down and his parents were so occupied and his routine was so lost. And the poor little man got so sick as well. The night before the floods he had dropped a can on his toe which then became so infected and nasty (sorry about the photo) and then because of that or the floods, or the stress he just got a bad flu that took awhile to shake - all adding extra stress to an already incredibly exhausting trial. 


We ended up throwing out so much of what we had tried to save and clean. There were so many reports of the danger of the flood water - all the garbage, sewage, dead animals and chemicals that might have been in it -contaminating anything plastic..etc. We tried to scrub out so much, but then worried about putting our soon to be newborn in them or let him play with toys that had been soaked in flood waters, so out they went. It was pretty heart breaking. (The pillows below are just one of many things we cleaned then decided it wasn't worth keeping).


I was especially upset that only a few months before my parents had brought out two suitcases of my books and things from home that were all then lost. It was some comfort to me to know that I had some things still in storage back in Utah that then were spared the fate of the floods, but Varian would joke that soon the long-awaited Wasatch Front Earthquake would happen and the rest of my stuff would go under. We laughed (laughed in a sad sort of way) that a few more international moves and a few more natural disasters and I'd be so unattached to material objects. 


Really moving to Australia was a much bigger trial for me and I had to already get rid of so much of my things and leave so much behind. This was just a repeat of that - but in ways I felt numb over it all. I am such a sentimentalist about things, but apparently my trials keep trying to beat that out of me. 


This baby trike hung from a power line near our house for months and seemed symbolic of the floods and how it effected the whole community. 


Here are some final pictures of our house - all gutted out and the garbage piled high.


Our insurance company made us take pictures of everything that had ruined; so as you can imagine I have countless pictures of objects - but not very many of us. 


But this is one I snapped of Varian at the end of the first full day we had back in our house. Already it was empty and gutted. We were so tired and yet the long process had just begun.  We did it though. How strange to be "flood victims" and yet we really did become "flood survivors." We pulled together, so did our friends and family, so did the community and nation. It was okay. We made it through. 


I'll write more in further posts about the countless blessings and sliver linings that came from the floods. So many unexpected blessings were in store for us. I truly hope nothing like this happens to us again, but I can't say that I would take the experience away. It really did help us grow, and pull together, and we learned so much and were so immeasurably blessed by others. Truly I felt the love of God and his watchful hand over us during this trial and will forever be grateful for it. 


kyle and ash said...

wow! this is pretty amazing. i can't believe what you've gone through. and i'm so glad you have a blog!! come home already.

Janae said...

This is amazing! It was so so so wonderful to see you last week and catch up a little bit. You guys are amazing!

Eve said...

The more I hear about it, the worse it gets! what an awful experience to go through! I 'm so sorry! We're missing you bunches out here!

Felicity said...

Some of these photos are just heartbreaking Leah!!! Shocks me every time I see them!