Tuesday, August 1, 2017

After the Flood: A retrospective on the Fox River Flood

Weather is a part of life. We joke about the weatherman and how wrong the weather predictions are. When we don't want weather to hit, we tell ourselves what we want to hear. It's only a low chance of rain, it will pass fast, they're always wrong, this never or always, and why read that pesky warning. If I ignore the warning, and just look at the chance of rain or snow, I can live comfortably in denial. There's the other extreme too, of immediately react for the most extreme potential. Both extremes are dangerous.
Second week of July in Illinois, weather warnings were up. The forecast called for possible rain. The fine print mentioned water levels, flood levels. I did think about that, recalling this area of the country got heavy rain through June. The ground was still saturated. I was concerned. My carport tent survived the worst storm, laundry was soaked though as I'd had to get out there and do extra staking. Friends let me visit them Wednesday, laundry dried while we caught up and had the chance outside of the frenetic pace of life to visit.
I got home. The warnings looked worse. I asked several people about them, if it flooded several more feet from run off what would the river do? I was thinking about putting everything back into the van. Both of the intelligent people I talked to explained why I was safe and likely overreacting. I kept my laundry in the van, but didn't move the fridge, groceries, kitchen or totes of personal items back in.  Totes don't leak until they are submerged. Why would I expect that, partially ignoring the voice of reason that seemed like the voice of overreacting in my head. Even then, warnings were that we might get fifteen feet total rise, and the river was almost at fourteen. It was swollen but mostly within its banks. Another foot shouldn't be that bad. Rationalize.
I fell asleep somewhat chagrined. Had I overreacted that day? Had Gracie too? I fell asleep wondering, but relieved she and Roxi had gone to stay with friends away from the river. I would stay and watch camp.
I slept. It didn't rain that night. It did not rain that night. No rain that night.
But runoff. Runoff slowly, subtly raises water levels. A friend taught me that during the bad Minnesota flood years ago. It's not the rain, it's the runoff.
I woke up Thursday because the fan stopped working. Had the power gone out? I sat up, looked out the window. Water everywhere. I fumbled contact lenses in. The kitten looked confused. I grabbed him, my wallet and phone. I went facebook live and jumped out. If something happened or was happening, I wanted folks to know and it looked bad. How would anyone know we needed help if I didn't get word out? Could we get out?
The water was mid-calf. I ran to dry land. Thought. Ran back. No current yet. The van was getting wet as water rose. The carport tent, fridge and other items were already knee deep in water. I started slowly as thoughts came together. Get the table. Get the chairs. The fridge is floating, nothing I can do to save that. Already face down, burnt out and drowned.  Unplug the power cords. Be relieved the power is out and I'm not getting electrocuted. Pause as an avocado in one of my kitchen bowls floats out the door as if headed on an adventure. Wave goodbye to it. Shock. Numbness. Video. What to do. Water rising.
Water was now mid-thigh in the carport tent. The van was almost knee deep. Did I mention the transmission died on the journey to the park? It was on the list of things to deal with. Now a different more immediate list took precedence. I went for help getting it moved, of all the times for a transmission fail, this seriously was the worst time. I went to the owner of the park, he was busy pulling boats out of the water. Boats are expensive, beat up vans are cheap. I understood his choice but wasn't happy with it. He didn't seem to understand that it was not able to move itself.
I found a guy with a diesel truck, talked him into towing the van to the parking lot out of water for the moment. He was initially resistant, but it was my home and I was politely persuasive. After he moved it, he was surprised to find himself glad that he had helped. I thanked him. I went back, started hauling Gracie's pop up trailer out by hand. One of the other residents saw me, he ran and helped. We got it to dry land. The water kept rising.
Friends gathered and dispersed. Some knew what they needed, what they lost and could easily express it. A place to stay for a family with two toddlers. Clothes, dog food, tent, air mattress.
I out word out.
A lot of folks offered help. Places to stay were found. Clothing poured in. Red Cross was a buzz word.
My friend Terrence Hespel was a shining knight. He kept me focused and gently guided me through my shock. Kimbelle, Terrence, Tammy, Joya, Steve and Nicole and several others offered me places to stay. Steve and Nicole took in the family with two toddlers. The weekend at Faire was solidly focus on the patrons and the magic. In the back of my mind, the avocado kept bobbing past me.
Monday, Terrence took me to the van that did not run. We looked at the stinking stuff I thought I saved. He got a garbage bag and we dumped a tupper of personal paperwork, hobby gear, and a good portion of my life into that bag. If you haven't dealt with a flood, here's a fun fact. Flood water that goes through areas where people have septic tanks pick up and carry the waste with the water. It's nasty water. I got a severe sinus infection just from the first morning of sloshing around in it. The doctor told me it's common when people go into floods.

Then we went to Red Cross. Cause they help, right? They offered clothes. Canned foods. Hot processed foods if you can drive there daily, and hot showers and a shelter to sleep in again great if you have transportation. They opened a case for me. Made me list everything I lost. I was on the verge of losing it to tears when Terrence stepped in. I finally just pulled up pictures from my camp. After making me do that, then the worker explained I could have cloth gloves, paper painting masks and weak large garbage bags to clean up with. There would be no financial assistance and I was warned not to move back in due to more heavy rain in the forecast and two dams to the north being at capacity already. So after making me list everything, what I was offered was minimally useful. There was a multi agency help center set up for three days. I couldn't get to it, staying with wonderful friends two hours away, safe and indoors. I called. Still more of an emotional wound than a help. They just kept offering me shelter, without transportation.
I found out the week after that the only people given financial assistance were people with kids. In retrospect, I would rather not have gone to see them and saved myself from having to rehash my losses for them to map. Apparently, they are helpful if you have insurance and need to make a claim or if you have kids. Otherwise, the help was minimal and not practical unless you could drive there daily or staying in their public shelter was your only option. I wasn't impressed. I was disappointed, considering how many friends donate and volunteer. I guess, if your going to donate: give appliances, contractor strength garbage bags, vinegar, toiletries, pet supplies, household goods, rubber gloves, muck boots. Those cloth gloves were useless in dealing with soaking wet fecal mud covered objects.
The same week the water went down enough for Tammy and I to go and buy muck boots, rubber gloves and strong contractor garbage bags, and vinegar to clean up with. My camp was still sitting in stagnant water that almost came into the top of the boots it was so deep. Tammy worked on getting the Shelter Logic carport tent ready to move to dry ground so we could take it down and bag each part to disinfect and clean it. I was relieved it withstood the flood. If it could handle it, I could too.I carried six loads of my own gear, now garbage to the dumpster. Irony. The one tupper of clothes I had filled to give away before the flood had floated but stayed in the tent. This ended up being good, as we had poop scented clay mud all over our clothes by the time we were done.
We wore mismatched clothes, laughed, and headed to McDonald's to wash, sanitize ourselves from head to foot as a guy sat watching, looking perplexed. Apparently he had never seen anyone use sanitizer like body and face lotion.
That night and the next day I soaked then scrubbed parts of the carport tent with vinegar water. It got hosed down and sun dried. Everything got vinegar washed and scrubbed and sun dried. Tammy, Terrence and their son Alex have been the finest hosts, making this easier to deal with and letting me stay the season at their house so I can recover financially rather than end up further strapped trying to rotate camps at state parks.
Friends. Friends reached out. A double steamer and rice cooker from Eddy Jeff. Dishes from Roger that ended up with one of the families, a number of people bringing in bags and bags of clothes, dog food and other needed items, Kathie and her husband bringing me colored pencils and a beautiful pen her husband made to replace the ones that wept their colors as they tumbled out of my life. Others sneaking a generous tip in my hat with a sweet note. Getting out to New Mexico to buy a new van, and having Suzy surprise me by loading the van up with a plethora of donations: spices, measuring cups, cups, towels, dishcloths, an air mattress and bedding for my van with new pillows, several framed pictures of the Painted Lady with children to take the place of some that were lost. Her brother, my friend Ivan drove up eight hours with Bridget from Mesa Arizona with more donations and gas money to help. A camp utility tent, kitchen gear for camping, a stove for me and a machete to keep me safe on the road. There were toiletries, brand new clothes, several crates of food stuffs, all useful and all well received. Brand new clothes, beautiful homemade tie dye, stuffed animals for kids. So much useful stuff. Judy sent Bridget to get my measurements, she knew I needed new garb for the painted Lady and dark faerie tales. Judy is a seamstress for one of the festivals. Judy is making the garb I need, taking a huge item off the heavy to buy and do list.
The flood took place in hours. The Fox River crested at over 17.5 feet. Flood stage is 11 feet. I was lucky it wasn't higher or faster.
It's taken weeks to organize, sort, and finish letting go of things that weren't really saved.
Now, I work forward. I've got a vehicle, James, the new van who is perky and performs reliably. I'm following up on closing out the old van whether it gets repaired or becomes scrap. My camp mates and I are waiting on a refund from Fox River Recreation that is supposed to come in a month. I'm figuring out what I still need, starting to pick up pieces to fill gaps.
Ivan asked in New Mexico how I felt about losing the stuff. My answer now is the same as it was to him then. It hurt but the new pieces that folks have given, those things now have positive memories attached to them. Those things came with love. Some of the stiff I lost reminded me of my past two relationships. Better to let go of baggage than carry it.
Better to let go than let it drag you down and pollute your life. My friends, so many offering help, hugs, meals, gifts, items. This crazy summer, this flood, has given me time to really think and to appreciate the love and compassion my friends have. Some day, when the time is right and I am ready, I will find a guy who is as motivated as Ivan driving right hours, as intuitive as Terrence knowing what to say and do to keep me on an even keel, as loving as all the friends who took note and offered aid, anticipating and giving without considering our needs a hassle. Someone who communicates openly and honestly who has a parallel philosophy and relationship goals. For now, I am going to keep focused on rebuilding my life. I am going to enjoy my kitten. I am going to do extra work flying around doing side gigs. I am going to enjoy time with friends, making more beautiful memories.
Friends have been the strongest safety net. It has been humbling and at times I blink back tears just realizing how much they've been there bringing me up and it's made it possible to smile even at the darkest moments.
I love my friends. Each of them is exceptional. I have great gratitude, my heart is flooded with it in a beautiful way!