Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The rains came down...

...and the floods came up.

Literally. Rexburg had some major flooding yesterday evening...about 2 inches of rain. 2 inches doesn't seem like a lot, but it's a lot. Especially when it all comes down within like, half an hour. There was also dime-sized hail. Between the debris caused by the hail and the huge amount of water in a short time, Rexburg's drains just couldn't cut it.

So this happened.

Plenty of people just took it in stride, like these folks, and the kayaker who's now famous among Rexburg's community (so many pictures of this guy). 

Video from the steps of the Kirkham building:

Video from the 4th floor of the Smith building:

Video from the east side of the Snow building:

Almost every building on campus was flooded. The Smith had some major electrical damage and is still closed, but the MC saw the worst of the water:

The testing center is located on the bottom floor of the MC, and seeing as how it's finals week next week, there were a lot of prayers that finals would be cancelled. But no such luck for students. Things are up and running again today.

The Snow building saw it's own share of water...this is the actor's studio:

Way to save the acting blocks, everyone. :)

There haven't been any major injuries, and no deaths. Jacob and I and his family live north of Rexburg, and we didn't get one drop of rain. I could hear the thunder, so I sat on the porch and watched the storm go by. Then I got on Facebook and was overwhelmed by all the photos and videos of what was happening on campus.

So, like any nature-lover, I got in the car and drove to campus. (I can't really explain why. I just wanted to be a part of it all, or something.)

Anyway, by the time I got to town, the floodwaters had receded quite a bit...and campus wasn't the raging rapid that it had been a few hours earlier. But it was clear that it had rained something crazy. I drove around for a bit and took pictures of the damage. These were all taken about 2 hours after the worst of it:

(This puddle was deeper than I had anticipated...)

This guy was happy about the rain!

 So I drove around for a little while, and then noticed crowds of people with buckets and trash cans, bailing people out. And suddenly, I thought, "Wait. People actually need help." I parked the van and grabbed our car trash can and waded out to help. I joined this group of people in their assembly line...they were trying to get the water down before it reached the front door of the house (just off camera to the right).

You know, I'll be the first to admit that the Mormon Church is not perfect. I love the Gospel dearly, and I don't ever want to leave the Church, but there are a lot of cultural things and sometimes policy things that I struggle with. But when it comes down to it, the students at BYU-Idaho are ready to serve. There was so much teamwork and service last night. Everything from "Bucket Brigades" to people bringing soup and water bottles to offering places to stay. No one told them to do it. They just saw a need and stepped up. 

Someone caught this gem of a moment, and it captures the spirit of last night's efforts pretty well:

 After we finished with the yard above, someone said they knew Baronessa Apartments needed help. So we all headed over there. And boy were they right. When we got there, a lot of the furniture had already been taken out of the apartments. 

But the biggest task ahead was bailing out the apartments. A lot of the student housing in Rexburg has a semi-submerged lower level, and quite a few of them were flooded pretty badly. I don't know details on other complexes...all I know is that Baronessa had about four and a half feet of water in each apartment.

Students were able to get most of their belongings out in time, but the damage was pretty bad. I joined the Bucket Brigade working to lower the water level, which meant standing waist-high in muddy water and filling up buckets to hand over the wall. I ran into several friends there, including my friend Eden who exclaimed cheerfully, "It's my first natural disaster!" as she stood waist-deep in water next to me, her hands muddy as she filled bucket after bucket.

We got the water down to about three feet, and then they brought a truck to help pump out the rest. The next task was to get the water-logged couches and mattresses out of each apartment, and to clean up as much trash as possible. We worked until about 9, before we ran out of light to work by.

I dreamed about it all last night, and this morning I woke up and wrote down my fragmented thoughts. I'm posting them here, unedited, so it's a bit disjointed, but it was an overwhelming experience, and I don't think I could describe it as well if I tried to compose it. Here are the images and memories I have of last night:

Wading through Baronessa. Surreal. Could have been any one of the apartments I lived in (thought of Beehive) back in the day. Walking on carpet underneath three feet of water felt so strange--a combination of sensations that I'd never experienced. Personal belongings floating among bark and dirt. Could see the waterline above the kitchen counter, along the living room walls, on the bedroom would have been neck-high in some places. Pictures and quotes on the walls, like every other girl's apartment in Rexburg. Dark because of no electricity, and getting darker. Towards the end, had to squint. 

Paper and occasionally clothing brushing past legs and feet. I would pull something out of the water now and then, to keep it from getting tangled. Stubbing toes on bed frames and cinderblocks. A few stray hangers now and then. A floating bag of flour. Swollen and water-logged cheerios. Carpets coming up from the water...bits of padding and plastic floating. Standing water being blocked by floating mattresses. Lip gloss, first aid, notes from classes, the occasional shoe, all floating by my legs. A water-logged towel I pulled up, and handed to someone outside, joking, "Just in case you need to dry off." I thought of Rose and Jack in the Titanic...wading through the water while furniture began to float around them. It all made the ceiling seem closer. 

My toes lost sensation after a while. I wondered what else I was walking in. I had to just not think about it, not wonder what was brushing my legs and feet. I was careful not to touch my face with my muddy hands. Thought of the times I moved mattresses in the past, and how awkward and unwieldy a mattress is. When they're waterlogged, they're too heavy to lift. You have to fold them, push them along in the water. We found a full suitcase under one of the beds, the clothing inside weighing it down so that we couldn't float it out. It took three people to carry. The box springs would make a squelching sound when you lifted them--all the water creating a vacuum underneath. Box springs revealed candy stashes, boxes of notes, the odd piece of clothing...things that would pour out with the water when we lifted them. In one apartment, I couldn't identify the white swollen cloth-like things floating in the water, until I picked one up and realized it was a wafer cookie, the package long gone. All of the refrigerators were floating, tipped up on their sides. 

When I got to the apartments, half of the furniture was already out on the lawn, and when I got down into the rooms, I realized it all had to have been floating. There was some good natured teasing...people still smiling. "It's my first natural disaster!" Eden laughed, while covered in mud, throwing a bucket of water over the edge of the wall. A boy who put a plastic rat on one of the refrigerators, and then watched while we all freaked out. Someone brought garbage bags, and we would just pick up whatever we could, setting the full bags outside the windows. One apartment where we thought we were done, but then I opened a door and discovered another bathroom, another bedroom. The water had been standing still for hours, and the smell made me gag. So much trash floating in that room...the mattress was blocking the bedroom, and the closed door had kept all the trash from floating out. 

Going through room by room, apartment after apartment, felt so strange--the water made them all look the same, but every square foot held some unknown underneath the surface. We started to warn each other of where nails were sticking up from the carpet, where the ground was unsteady. I kept slipping on linoleum, not being able to see where it started. 

There aren't a lot of pictures of the damage, simply because no one wanted to drop their cameras in the water. But here's what I saw last night, where I was helping:

(You can see the waterline near the light switch.)

As much trash as possible had to be removed so that it wouldn't clog the pumps. The couches and mattresses had to be pulled out so that all the water could be drained from them. We got all of it done just as the light was fading. The electricity was all off, so a few people had headlamps to help with the last of it. 

When I got home, we all exchanged stories. Kristi, Anna, and Jeff all went to Millhollow Rd, where their old house is. Their basement was fine, although the window wells were filled with water. They had some neighbors who weren't so lucky, though. Jacob and I were worried about our storage unit, especially since a lot of valuable things were close to the sliding door (guitar amp, my mother's old sewing machine, a box of my journals from the last fifteen years). But the seal on the door was strong enough that everything was perfectly dry! Whew. 

I had Laura take a picture of me when I got home, before I cleaned up. You can't quite tell in the picture, but my shorts are completely soaked through. 

Here's the other slightly worrisome thing that happened. I got in the tub and glanced down and thought, "Why is the water all reddish?" Then I noticed the enormous gash on my ankle.

It was bleeding a lot, and I had no idea when or how or where I'd gotten it. I was practically numb from the knees down by the time I finished at Baronessa, so I probably didn't even register it when it happened. I was worried because I'd been walking in muddy, possibly contaminated water for the last few hours, which is no good with a gaping wound. Laura and Anna helped me clean up, and when the dried blood was cleaned off and when the bleeding had slowed down, it really wasn't too bad of a cut. It was deep, but pretty clean. So I don't think it was from anything metal--all the metal I was working with was old and would have made a more jagged cut. There was one apartment where they told us to stay out of one room because of broken glass, so I think it might have been that. I disinfected and bandaged it up, and decided that if it looked bad in the morning, I'd go to the doctor. And as of this morning, it looks fine. It hurts when I forget about it and bump it or sit cross-legged, but its healing well. It's awkward to care for, since it's on the outside of my ankle, but in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing.

UPDATE: After being urged to do so by individuals and the healthcare community at large, I went and got a tetanus shot today. And now my arm hurts. But I am now less likely to die because of the flood. 

For the most part, Rexburg is doing pretty good. The floodwaters are almost all receded and campus buildings are completely cleaned up. As I type this, this is what the weather is like:

But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. There are several families who lost everything.

UPDATE: Those wishing to make financial donations to help survivors of the flood recover, there is a fund set up HERE

There is also a Facebook page to coordinate recovery efforts. A lot of it is for meals and cleanup and housing, so it's mostly for the Rexburg area, but check it out to see if there's anything you can do to help! Click HERE.

During cleanup yesterday, I kept making the joke, "Everyone repent!" There were a lot of references to Noah's ark, too. Which makes this sight all the more meaningful...this was taken right before I drove into town yesterday:

"And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.
And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth."
- Genesis 9: 11-13

The floods that happen nowadays don't have the power to destroy the WHOLE earth, and in times of flash floods, that's a nice thing to remember. So if this rainbow ain't perfect timing, I don't know what is.


Curt said...

I am so proud of a daughter who would risk life and limb (at least an ankle) to help others in time of need, and one who is artistic enough to blog about it afterwards! We love you!

Oh, one more hint from my experiences with floods: don't go barefoot!

Anonymous said...

Yea! My video made it to your blog!