Life after the flood

The garage is gone and everything in it. *photo by author

What’s it like to go through a flood?


Where do I begin? It’s a slow descent into hell, that’s what it is. The water in eastern North Carolina came up, not as a tsunami, this was more of an insidious crawl to total destruction. It began in the darkness, as the winds began to lash the house with a significant, non-stop beating. This house is over 100 years old so we knew she’d take a beating but weren’t sure how much of one she’d withstand. She didn’t flood during Hazel, back in 1954, and that was the storm of the century. She lost part of her roof during Irene. We lost the garage contents during Irene and the water heater that’s in there.

I stayed up until 2 pm the night of Florence’s arrival. I kept thinking the power would go out. Thought I’d stay up until it did. I heard the pumps, run by the City to provide drainage for Jack’s Creek that runs through our very small rural township. I heard the whoop-whoop at 2 am and finally decided to go to bed, feeling exhausted, storm-worn and weary.

At 6:30 a.m. the phone rang. It was my daughter. She lives three blocks away, on higher ground. “You’ve got to wake up! You have to get out, your house is going to flood. I’m outside on your front porch. Grab what you can.” She came inside to grab the car keys, to move our car to higher ground. We ran through the house, grabbing essentials and grabbing stupid stuff, not knowing what to take. We were in a panic (duh).

We went out onto the front porch and watched the water coming up as the rain poured down. It was less than six inches from our first floor. “The pumps have failed,” she told us as she went out into the rain to the car. The car wouldn’t start. It’s a ten year old Volvo, a workhorse but the storm was proving too much for it. My daughter took the jump starter (a lithium battery charger) and damned if she didn’t get the car going and moved it about 500 feet up the street to higher ground. In the middle of a hurricane. She’s the heroine of the tale.

“Grab what you can and come to our house,” she said and she got into her car and left. We walked through the house, saying good bye to everything. We loaded up the dog kennel, both dogs, and a suitcase full of clothing, photos of my parents, and some letters from my dad. I grabbed my jewelry box, not because my jewelry has any overall worth, but because it had my Mom’s stuff in it, little earrings of no consequence but Daddy bought them for her, that kind of jewelry. Meaningful took the place of financial.

Rob took everything to the car. I don’t know how he did it. I walked in circles, grabbing first one dog, taking her to the car, then the other. As we finished loading the few paltry things we grabbed, the NJ swift water rescue teams were starting to come down our street. We’re on a small incline, up from the creek and the neighbors were stranded.

We drove the wrong way down a one-way street toward my daughter’s house. The longest three blocks I’ve ever driven. When we arrived, we had to introduce our two dogs to four of her dogs. It went well. No posturing. Then the cats, my daughter has many Maine Coons and she was caring for three from some evacuee friends. Still, no fights. Our dogs had never seen a cat before that.

Everyone settled within a few minutes, then we got on the couches and watched the horrific news. As the storm raged, we didn’t know the status of the house. Let me tell you now, we were spared the main floor. The storm water went under our house, higher than it’s ever been, flowing under house toward our neighbor’s. Took out the duct work and the HVAC system. We had over three feet of water in our garage. Our water heater is in garage, typical weird old house construction reality.

How to tell this story? The day before the storm begin, Einar, age 87, my son-in-law’s father who lives with the family, fell. Apparently from a stroke and he broke his back. He was in hospital and they were trying to send him home. The hospital fought with SIL, trying to release Einar. He fought back, said they’d be calling 911 in the middle of the storm… hospital kept Einar. He’d just returned, a week earlier, from a five week stay in Norway, visiting “one last time” and his legs were swollen, he’d tried to hide it from us, so there was risk of clotting. It’s not necessary to relate all his health details, but he was in bad shape.

We’ve got Einar in hospital, six dogs in house (two of them Malinois, big lumbering beasts of good humor and love, two Jack Russells very old, and two Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix dogs, ours) eight Maine Coon cats, bigger than the dogs, two middle school age boys, me, daughter, her husband and my husband. All in the living room, watching the storm progress. As we watched New Bern, only 30 miles away, go under water, we started to panic.

If that’s what the Neuse River is doing, what’s the Pamlico Sound going to do?

The rain continued to fall.

Twenty-four hours later, my grandson was able to walk to our house and call us, tell us the water got to the front porch but didn’t go in the door. I was stunned. The garage took a hit, it is destroyed. All the cabinetry, the piano, the lockers, the lawn mower, all the tools, twenty years of living and the water heater, under three feet of water.

Once the nasty water receded, and believed me, creek water is drainage water, filled with garbage and leaves, we were able to better assess our clean up needs. I got my name in with FEMA, to see if there’d be any help since insurance doesn’t cover garage or under the house.

Yes, it wasn’t the house itself. But good God what a mess.

What’s it like to have five minutes to grab and go? You think you know what you’ll grab. You think you’ll be prepared. Nope. Doesn’t work that way. I’ve been in such a situation before this. When the house next to ours, just six feet away, caught fire and burned almost to the ground. Sheriff’s deputies pounded on our door that night, telling us to get out. Not to grab anything, just to get the hell out. The deputies picked my 90 year old mother up out of her bed and carried her across the street to safety. I carried one dog, my husband grabbed another and we put a leash on the third and then, for four hours, we sat on our neighbor’s porch and watched as they fought to save the house and sadly, my neighbor, who perished in the fire.


I’m remembering it all today as the rain is gently falling. I made myself go out onto the front porch and just sit and watch it. When it began to fall, I panicked. Felt my blood pressure rise and knew I had to do something. Sitting on the porch, showing the “ME” that there was nothing to fear. I came inside as the thunder began and texted my daughter. She told me she had the same response.

My friends lost everything in their house — they live near New Bern and had over four feet of water surge through their first floor. As they began to rip out flooring, their dog walked into the room and died. I found out on Facebook. I watched the devastation for days, linking to relevant articles about nearby flooding, about FEMA, about where to get a hot meal, about who was donating hot meals, where to evacuate as the water began to rise again, Facebook had it all. It became an obsession. Then it all got to me… I think I was handling it okay until I saw the dead fish on Interstate 40. Saw the dead fish line the highway, then watched a video of the fire department squirting water over those fish, sending them into the ditch beside the highway. (BTW, clean up crews will shovel up fish and bury them).

Those fish did me in. So I signed off Facebook and here I sit. Typing about my experience. Einar’s home from the hospital. He’s in hospice care now. It was all too much for him. My daughter’s been running at 100 miles an hour for weeks and now she’s sick. Hopefully her trip to urgent care a little while ago will get her the meds she needs and maybe they’ll convince her to rest.

FEMA came on Saturday and it seems we’ll get some help replacing the HVAC, duct work and water heater but I’m not sure. It’s a few months until we need heat… at least we’ve got that. We were fortunate enough to have two small A/C window units for the downstairs of our house and we’ve moved the bedroom downstairs.

Here’s our reality. We are eating frozen dinners so we don’t mess up the kitchen too much. We boil water to wash the dishes. The SNAP program didn’t give recipients any extra food money for the storm (they did during Matthew) but we can buy “hot” food which we don’t really want, from WalMart or Sheetz (of all places) or Food Lion. We bathe in the kitchen sink, there are worse things to do. We sleep on a mattress on the floor in the den, it’s working out ok but it’s hard to get up from it. (ha) The dogs are confused but okay, they behaved admirably throughout. I’m proud of them. I always say they are developmentally challenged because their mother died when they were born so they were bottle fed. This does result in developmental delays, honest to God.

The garage? A dear friend I’ve known practically my entire life (I’m 63) sent me some cash via Venmo to pay for help emptying out the wet nasty filthy debris. It was all hauled to the curb (see photo of part of it) and we managed to pay the helpers $40 each for their hard work. The rain is coming down harder now and I’m determined not to show any signs of stress.

I picked up some cigarettes after the storm and smoked for a week. I’ve quit now. Another dear friend, also from childhood, just sent us a check. We almost have enough for a water heater but we have to find out the FEMA application results before we do anything. I don’t know if we get reimbursed, if they pay for it outright, if we will get any help at all… so we wait with cold water. Good news is, the washer works with just cold so I can do laundry.

If you’re still reading this, well, bless you for hanging in there. I’m not sure what my point is, and as a writer, that’s really lame. I know to have a beginning, middle and some sort of denouement … but what I really have is agoraphobia. It’s hard to leave the house every day and needs must. Prescriptions need refilling, groceries need buying and my husband must attend group therapy once a week for his non-combat related PTSD from the Air Force.

We’ve been waiting for VA compensation for sexual assault for over three years. That’s the other side of this stressful tale. He had his Social Security disability hearing at the end of August, so we wait for the results of that. He will surely receive it, the Judge at the hearing seemed to give very positive feedback and the attorney said she was 99% (and she never ever comments on such matters) that he would get disability. We’ve been living on less than $900 a month for years, grateful to our mortgage holder that 1/2 the amount is acceptable each month.

There’s this book by Shirley Jackson, a brilliant work, titled “We Have Always Lived In the Castle”. Odds are you’ve never heard of it, but if you have, you’ll know the way we live now.

Odds are you’ve seen the destruction. Unless you’re a complete numb nut, you’ve watched the floods on TV. Yes, we harken back to Houston, to Puerto Rico … it’s our turn now. We expect the government to help, but yall, know it’s not going to happen. Ask the people in Houston and the rest of the area down there that flooded. Don’t expect your government to save you.

That’s my final word on the subject. Every one cares while it’s happening but when the stinking, fetid water subsides, we’re all on our own.

Just read this brilliant quote from another Medium story: Alyeesha has the grit to make it through the storm, but after the winds pass and the bottled water gets loaded back up, she knows that the country’s attention will just move on. Jim Cantore does not come for poverty.

The Dead Mule @deadmule writer, thinker, advocate for an ethical society, publisher online for 25 years.

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