Water. She’s a sneaky beast. Most of us think of her as someone we want to vacation with, relax next to or drink to hydrate. We don’t think about water as an enemy. We don’t comprehend her immense and widespread power which can crush cities and destroy lives.
When I was just two weeks home from the hospital after giving birth to child number 1, Hurricane Ike landed on the coast of Texas and aggressively wreaked havoc through the Midwest, causing devastation as far north as Pennsylvania. I will never forget that early Sunday morning in September 2008, when the rain fell in St. Louis as a waterfall might from the sky. It never stopped. After five straight hours, we had enough rain to raise our river levels to a disastrous flooding stage, and it brought with it a shitload of trouble to my door.
At the time, my brother-in-law worked for the St. Louis County P.D; Luckily, he was in charge of shutting down and diverting traffic around one of the main arteries in our city. He happened to be working four blocks away from our company front door. Realizing the area was beginning to flood with water, he hiked over to check on things for us. We had *just* finished (and by ‘just’ I mean, put the last screws in and installed the countertops for our final and latest kick-ass kitchen display), remodeling our 4,000 square foot showroom. Blood, sweat, tears and every cent we owned, was invested into transforming an old, cranky, tired showroom into a place people would want to visit and dream about while imagining a new kitchen or bathroom for their home. What my brother-in-law saw as he approached our showroom was brand new displays, offices and a warehouse sitting tragically in two feet of water.
I started receiving picture after picture via incoming text messages. The first image is forever burned into my retinas. My brand new desk was floating in my office with all my client files bobbing in the water right along next to it. My first thought: “Furniture floats?” And my second, “I better find my waders – and quick.” I am an action girl; I do not hesitate or spend time ruminating. I don’t know what we thought we could do. Chase the water away? But off we went anyway. Within minutes we had driven our newborn child to my parents. We kissed her goodbye and told my parents we were not sure when we would return for her. My eyes still get teary when I think about this. So off we went again, my tummy fresh off a C-section, and both of us leaving our brand new baby indefinitely to walk into the sad unknown. To say we were not prepared is an understatement.
Hurricane Ike caused $29.5 billion in damages in the states and was the third most destructive U.S. hurricane on record. Strangely enough, I think I was lucky during Ike hell for several reasons. One, it was storm water that came too fast. The sewers and creeks could not take the volume so it left as quickly as it came. By the time we managed to get to the showroom and open the doors, the water trapped inside all came rushing out (along with half the contents of the showroom). Second, it was my place of business, not my home. Nothing there had significant emotional value. Third, when disaster hits, you realize you are not alone. The generosity we experienced and the willingness of our team to come in on a Sunday after hearing the news (and we didn’t ask them to) was humbling. All sorts of people came to help: employees, customers, friends, and friends of friends.
That very day – and for several days after – we sucked water, dragged out samples to dry in the sun, wiped mud from every crevasse, put papers in the freezer and pretty much saved our skins. We worked until none of us could move, clean out another cabinet, or lift another box. We had to. We were not in a flood plain so we did not have flood insurance (we do now). We were a business; there isn’t free help for businesses. Water is devastating. It ruins all it saturates. If you don’t get it all cleaned and dried it can grow and breed illness with growing black mold.
I still can’t look at the pictures without feeling that hopelessness of the moment. The day we found out there was no insurance or government help for us, no financial assistance coming to aid in the rebuild. We would have to do it all over and all alone. I missed my daughter and my husband longed for her. She was an hour away from us, and we were covered in mud, feeling utter despair. Thankfully, my mom knew we would need our Ellie. Even when things seemed dark a hug from our infant daughter could change anything and everything. My parents drove an hour to give us 20 minutes of unannounced cuddle time at just the right moment, giving us the much-needed strength to keep moving. As I sit here, snot running from my nose in a sort of ugly remembrance cry, I am reminded that no matter what help you can offer, lending a hand, a donation, the offer to house a pet or watch someone’s children, is quite simply invaluable.
I was lucky; I had a place to come home to at night. Ike didn’t knock down my front door and displace my family. My heart aches for those that are suffering at the hand of Hurricane Harvey right now. Please consider donating to those in need with me.