Starting again: April 2014

Flood water in High River on June 25th. Ryan Armstrong/Twitter. See
Flood water in High River on June 25th. Ryan Armstrong/Twitter. See

It’s been almost one year since I’ve last posted anything on this site. I’ve been wanting to restart for awhile, but felt like I couldn’t do that until I had the ability to post about the event that brought this blog (and most everything else in our lives) to a sudden halt: the flood of June 20, 2013. I don’t think it’s worth waiting any longer to write again, though–even if I don’t know what to write? All of us in High River have talked so much about the flood that I don’t know if there’s much left to say. Every aspect of the flood itself and the now eight-month aftermath can be found among the articles aggregated at sites like the Huffington Post High River Flood page. I grow a little numb just flipping through the stories–it all seems so long ago.  Indeed, so much has changed since the flood that it’s hard to remember what life was like a year ago. And to be honest, I’m a little fearful of going into too much detail. It’s overwhelming, both in volume and in depth. For now, I just want to state the basics about my flood experience, then move on to the many other things I’d really like to write about.

I was in Germany leading a Reformation history tour when news of the flood upended that adventure. On the day of the deluge, Colleen and the kids moved some of the essentials upstairs, packed a few things (including the dogs) and made a hasty and (from everything I can figure) quite proper escape to friends in the country. Over the weekend that followed, they settled in with family in Calgary and I cut my trip short and arrived home on the Monday–four days into the event.

Home office flooded.

We were, to be sure, all quite traumatized, though to be fair, I didn’t go through the chaos of the evacuation like they did. At that point, things were so confusing that it’s hard to remember everything that happened. Mostly, we were busy checking Facebook for news about the flood. Roughly speaking, here’s my memory of things:

We discovered the full extent of the flooding, which overwhelmed about three-quarters of High River and covered our area of town in several feet of water, which did not drain away. Our home sat in a new lake that might have been perhaps 10 square kilometres in size. The town was under a mandatory evacuation order.

Family and friends rallied around us and, in a number of cases, gave us generous gifts to sustain us in the short to medium term.

The early days were a desperate search for information about the extent of the damage, news of the government’s response, and some indication of when we could return to clean up our home.

The government built a temporary dirt berm right behind our home, so they could pump our area dry, since there was nowhere for the water to drain.

Generous people from Lammle’s were giving away free shoes in Okotoks, which helped very much, since most of ours had been ruined in the flood, while the rest were in the house, where we couldn’t reach them.

We got back in late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, two weeks after the flood. Our home had had about 52 inches of water in the basement. Fortunately, we have a split level, so the depth of water in our basement was less than many others.

Front yard garbage pile.
Front yard garbage pile.

Thanks to so much help from family, friends, and volunteers from Ambrose University and Southview Alliance who came out from Calgary, our basement was gutted, power washed, and sprayed against mold by suppertime on Saturday, July 6.

During our clean up, a father of a friend of Liz’s drove up in his grain truck and brought along another truck and trailer, with which he hauled three or four loads of flood-ruined possessions and building material–all of the things which had previously comprised our basement–to the landfill, clearing away the massive pile of refuse in our front yard.

The insurance adjuster came, and much to our surprise informed us that the original decision not to cover our flood damage had been overturned. He wrote up a thorough claim on our behalf, which has been paid out in stages, as we have completed the work. This involved so many phone calls, but most of the people at the insurance company and mortgage company have been good to deal with.

Thanks to generous colleagues at work who were going on holidays, we had two homes to stay in throughout the month of July, both in nearby Okotoks.

Ruined appliances, including our rotting fridge and freezer, sat outside our home for weeks, until some generous volunteers hauled them away.

We turned on the fans and opened the entire house to dry out, which it did in about a month.

We cleaned the yard, washed muddy possessions, and ate free burgers provided around town all July. Most other meals–a significant majority–were from McDonalds.

Basement rebuild.
Basement rebuild.

Family members came to put on new doors, replace exterior sheeting, clean the yard, swap out insulation and sheeting in the garage, and paint the fence.

A hail storm totaled our remaining two vehicles–my car had already been totaled in the flood.

A friend lent me four or five dehumidifiers–I forget which number.

We got a new water heater, and our oldest son Matthew began to live at the house again.

After a short getaway to an academic conference and a shopping trip in Vancouver and Seattle, the rest of us moved back into our home at the beginning of August.

Colleen and others cleaned the upstairs over and over.

Colleen and I planted a few flowers in the yard.

I repainted much of the upstairs: the kitchen, dining room, living room, hall, and stairway.

Professionals sprayed against mold (again), cleaned the ducts, plumbed in a new tub downstairs, and sprayed foam insulation in the basement.

We got permits, renewed our wiring (family and friends played a huge role in this, again), and passed inspection.

We arranged for new phone, Internet, and cable hook-up.

Professionals sheeted, taped, and mudded the basement.

Professionals installed a new furnace–one day before the weather turned cold at the end of September.

Family and friends helped paint the basement.

Professionals installed new basement flooring.

The kids moved back downstairs.

We purchased and installed bathroom fixtures.

We purchased and installed new lighting throughout the basement.

We purchased, stained, varnished and put up trim (and once more, family and friends were indispensable).

We bought furniture, appliances, furnishings, and moved in other furniture given to us by family members, in the family room, laundry room, two bedrooms, and music room.

We bought, painted, and installed shelving and benches in the mud room.

New home office.
New home office.

I’m sure this list doesn’t cover it. There were hundreds of phone calls, dozens of forms to fill and lines to stand in, and endless, relentless dirt to deal with. The truth of the matter is that all summer and every spare moment of the fall was invested in cleaning, rebuilding, and restoring our home. By mid-December, all but a few little jobs were done. As of now, I just have the final inspections from town and mortgage company to take care of.

In so many ways, we have been fortunate–more fortunate than most. We have stable jobs and had time off during the summer (and in my case, an understanding employer who forgave my meager research output this past year). We have generous family and friends who gave time, expertise, and money to support us. Our home dried out quickly, and our insurance settlement came in good time too, enabling us to get a jump on rebuilding. We had access to quality tradespeople and good connections to suppliers. We had physical capacity to work. We are practiced communicators who were able to manage the phone calls and red tape and paperwork and negotiations. We had and have strong support systems around us. In so many ways, things have turned out well for us. Our basement was fine before. It is even better now.

And we are grateful. So very, very, very grateful, for the inestimable amount of support we have received, and for much goodness we have not deserved. There is no other way to put it.

And yet, having written all this, I find that I have written only half of the story–and maybe not even that much.

I have not written of the enormity of the suffering our community has endured, from which it will take some years to recover.

I have not written of the ugliness of the mud and ruin all around, which will remain with us for the foreseeable future.

I have not written of the post-traumatic stress disorder and of the depression with which we have struggled throughout the fall and winter, and which still reemerge from time to time.

I have not written of the spiritual crisis which the flood occasioned in me, which is not yet entirely solved.

I have not written of the unremitting fatigue that has plagued us, and which has still not entirely passed.

I have not written of the sharp reduction in physical and emotional capacity, which continues to surprise, discourage, and limit us.

I have not written about the challenge of rebuilding our yard this spring and summer, about which I am not excited.

I have not written about the fear that will grip us and our community this May and June, as we wonder about the spring melt and the June rains.

I’m not sure I have a good way of writing about these things yet. Nor am I sure if I will need to at some point, or if these subjects are better left alone. Time seems to be healing us, gradually. We are doing well …  mostly. And we are very grateful for all the goodness poured out upon us over the past eight months.

But we are not the same, and I’m not sure what to do with that.


3 thoughts on “Starting again: April 2014

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