The really bad rain came last Sunday night. There had already been a couple of days of intermittent, unusually-heavy rain here in northwest Georgia, but Sunday night was different. It started shortly after the 5pm evening Mass let out and we just made it home before the sky opened. And once this rain began, you could just sense that there was something ominously different about it.
There were no gusts, and no lulls. Just an incessant torrential deluge with unrelenting thunder and lightning throughout the night. A strike early in the evening robbed us of phone and internet service and blew nearly every light bulb in the house — along with the TVs. Amazingly enough the power only flickered and then stayed. By that time it had become a strange dark, punctuated by lightning followed almost immediately by the retort of thunder every couple of seconds — hour after hour after hour.
My husband, Dan, and I slept only fitfully, listening to the kettle drums in the sky and the constant pounding of the rain on the roof, as flashes lit the room. The thoughtful man had placed a flashlight on my nightstand, I noticed as I slid under the covers, but it would not have been needed even if the power failed and I had to get up in the night so frequently were entire contents of the room illuminated.
By first light of Monday morning we were up, having barely slept, wanting to access the damage and get our bearings. None of our trees were down, but the ground was sodden. We had taken some water in our crawl space, but there didn’t seem to be any damage to our home. We had low water pressure and it seemed to be diminishing, so we started filling containers as long as it lasted. We store water anyway as general emergency preparation for our family, but we hoped not to have to use our stored water. Attempting to determine whether the water problem was ours alone or part of the wider system, Dan checked the meter — it was not turning, so we did not have a leak. While outside, he checked the septic field line as well and came back in with the news that it was full and that we should put nothing down the drains — that meant no flushing, no showers, no washing machine or dish washer — until the levels receded.
While the radio announced that schools would be closed at least until Wednesday and began listing the bridge and road washouts, I used the cell phone to call the water and phone company. The mains were broken throughout the county and whenever our water returned we should boil it, I was advised. Although it was not yet 8 in the morning when I called about the phone, I was given a repair date at the end of the week. It was dawning on us that we were among the most fortunate residents of our county — entrances into some subdivisions and apartments were washed away, thousands of homes, apartment, and businesses were partially or totally submerged, and most tragically, reports of deaths were just beginning. For that matter, so was the flooding.
Throughout the day on Monday, although the rains had decreased to a drizzle, waters kept flowing into low-lying areas, covering roads and necessitating the closing of parts of the interstate. I washed my hair in the rain water that had filled the wheelbarrow in the backyard and set up a dish washing station outside using water boiled on the gas stove, another thing to be thankful for. One mom I knew was at home with 7 children, her husband stuck out of town. Although her water was flowing, she had an electric stove, no power, and no alternative way to boil water. “Turn off the intake valve to your hot water heater so bad water doesn’t get in,” I told her, “and open the valve to drain it — you have at least 30 gallons of potable water there.”
Watching me wash the dishes outside, my granddaughter remarked, “I’m glad I’m getting to see this because now I know what to do in an emergency.” Taking advantage of the object lessons all around, we made emergency and disaster preparedness the main theme of the week’s homeschooling. On Thursday, we held a family debriefing: What did we do right; what could we improve; what did we learn about being prepared?
But grief was a secondary theme. We commiserated with small business owners we knew who suffered multiple 10s of thousands of dollars in damage and, in an area not known to be vulnerable to floods, were not covered for the loss. The reported deaths were a close-to-home reminder of our human vulnerability and fragility, although we did not know any of the victims personally; we did not have to travel far to see vehicles submerged in creeks. For me it recapitulated the sense of shock I felt at my daughter’s death a few years ago. She was killed in a car accident on her way home from work and with the exception of a two-year-old swept from his father’s grasp by swirling water, it seemed these stories all featured people who were on their way to or on their way home from work. Yes, there had been flash flood warnings for a couple of days, but when you have driven on a road or over a bridge through rainstorms for years or even decades as flash flood warnings came and went, you can hardly fathom that today, in the mere seconds it will take you to go over a bridge, water will cover it and sweep you right through the guardrail. After my daughter’s death, my daughter-in-law had walked around for days, shaking her head and saying, “You just never know.” It was how everyone here felt that awful wet week.
But what really hit Dan and me in the gut was the message that good friends of ours had lost their home to the flood. Catholic author Rod Bennett and his wife Dot had just this summer finished a years’ long dream – a thirty-thousand dollar remodel on their forty-year old house. Now all was ruined; water had filled the bottom two floors of the house and come up to the window sills of the top floor. Though the property was covered by flood insurance, none of the contents were covered, not the new appliances and floors, not Rod’s expansive library including numerous commentaries by the Church Fathers, not the recently acquired heirlooms that held Dot’s precious memories of her father.
“There just has to be a heaven,” I said to my husband, “or there could be no justice in the universe. Rod and Dot are wiped out, while you just know there is some creep with ill-gotten gains sitting high and dry right now.”
“Well, you know what the Bible says,” he answered wryly, “God makes it rain on the just and unjust.”
We call it a blessing that we were spared — the blessing of the prudential foresight to buy a house on high ground, to make sure we have alternative means of cooking and heating our home, to store water and other necessities against the rainy day. But to say that is certainly not to say that those who lost so much experienced a curse. Rather we are blessed in order to share and help. Besides, the next time there is a disaster, it could be us.
Because… you never know.