Thursday, September 30, 2010

And the rain rain rain came down down down

 Hooper Road at 17C, looking east toward Endwell Rug, Endwell, NY, 6/28/06

It's been raining since early this morning, and shows no sign of letting up.  That avalanche of tropical moisture is still streaming up through the Appalachians to the Adirondacks, and the whole eastern area of the U. S. seems to be under a gigantic flood warning.  I am so incredibly glad we don't live on a creek or near the Susquehanna River any more.  In 2006 we lived about two tenths of a mile up a creek on the river.  Our house was on a bluff by a ravine, maybe 30 feet above the river, 25 feet or so above the creek.  Every spring the river would rise and the creek would back up into the ravine, flooding it to a depth of several feet.  That was normal.  But that summer we had over a solid week of rain, culminating in a prolonged five-day deluge from a tropical system.  It was like a moisture conveyor belt straight from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada via New York.

Looking south on Davis Ave., Endwell, NY, 6/28/06

The night the river flooded was really strange.  Obviously we knew the river was rising, and that it was going to be severe.  But the highest the river had ever gone was about 3 feet below the edge of the ravine by our house.  Our house was built into the hillside, so our driveway went down to our basement level, where our car port was under the raised family room.  Essentially, it was a walk-out basement to the car port and the lower level of the yard.  That afternoon and evening the river had been rising steadily.  As the predictions of the crest of the flood came in, we realized that we were in very real danger of having a basement full of water.  We moved our washer and dryer out of the basement, and up to the top of the driveway, and covered them with tarps - our neighbor Dave helped us, even though his house was in just as much danger from the flood as ours.  I put everything I could in the basement up on shelves.  Everyone in the neighborhood was trying to move things up and out of the path of the flood.
Looking south on Shady Dr., Endwell, about 1/2 block down from our street

The lower part of our neighborhood had been flooded many times before; the streets paralleled the river, and stair-stepped down the slope to it.  In previous years various houses on the lowest street had been demolished by FEMA, 20 just the year before from the 2005 flooding, and the land was returned to green space, but there were many houses still on the next two streets up.  That evening the flood inundated the first street, where there were only a few homes left.  Then it crept higher, and into the next street.  The fire department went through around dusk and evacuated both of those streets, which left just one more street below ours.

Susquehanna Valley, view west from Carpathian Hill, 6/27/06

We thought we might have to evacuate, and we actually packed overnight bags and went to visit my sister in town - she and her family lived farther away from the flooding.  To get to them we had to go up and over the hills, because the freeways and main roads in the valley were all closed.  We stopped at one place overlooking the valley and took some pictures.  It looked like God had spilled a root beer float all over the towns clustered along the highway; there was creamy-brown water reflecting the evening light for miles.  After dinner we called our neighbors, who were sitting tight, and they said that our street had not been evacuated, so we decided to go home and wait it out.

We kept going out during the night to see where the water was.  It was the creepiest night of my life.  The highway we could usually hear less than 1/4 mile away was dead quiet, flooded and closed.  There was virtually no traffic on the secondary roads, due to the state of emergency that had been declared, but we heard sirens in the distance constantly.  It was eerily quiet on our block.  As we watched the edge of the ravine, we noticed that it seemed to be moving.  The water was a foot or so below the edge, and still rising.  I went to take a closer look, and realized that the edge of the land was covered with small creatures trying to escape the rising water.  Thousands of worms were wriggling up the bank, some of them even trying to climb the hemlock tree trunks along the edge of the embankment.  Spiders, centipedes, toads, even mice and voles were fleeing the water, all in a strange, silent, squirming mass.  It was like something out of a horror movie, but it was in my own back yard.

The view from the family room, looking northwest, 6/28/06.

By morning the water was right at the edge of the ravine, just barely overlapping into the back corner of the yard under our shed.  It had crested at last.  If it had risen less than a foot more, it would have been in our basement.  (The projected possible crest of the flood would have put the water 1 foot deep in our basement.)  The bottom of our neighborhood was destroyed.  Some houses were flooded into their second floors.  At least one house had its basement wall collapse.  The industrial area across the ravine from us was totally under water.  The water stank of sewage and petroleum, fertilizer and heaven knows what else.  It was totally vile.

The ravine is totally full and slightly overflowing at crest, 6/28/06.  
That's my garden path, beside the car port.

We were some of the lucky ones.  Some people upriver were evacuated by helicopter, because the roads were cut off by rising water.  Many people lost everything.  As the water receded, we joined with our neighbors to try to help others in the neighborhood clean up what they could of their flooded homes.  We took boxes of cleaning supplies to the next block, and gave them to whoever needed them.  I had the kids with me, so I couldn't take them into those damaged homes to help with the cleanup, but they enjoyed handing out bottled water and cleaning stuff.  My husband volunteered with Samaritan's Purse, which dispatched one of their disaster relief teams to our area and used our church as a base of operations.  He helped clear out several homes that needed to be emptied before they could be cleaned (or gutted) and rebuilt.  One family he helped was in our neighborhood, which made it very personal to us.

The bottom of our neighborhood was later bought out piecemeal by FEMA, the homes were demolished, and the area returned to green space.  A couple dozen homes or more were leveled by the following spring.
When we were looking for a new home in 2009, we refused to look at any home on a creek, stream, or river - no mystery why.