Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodnight Irene

Well, where to begin...

Here I sit on Labor Day, just over a week after Hurricane Irene and it's tropical storm alter ego washed through Southern Vermont.

It's been an exhausting week-long roller coaster. My endurance was tested through it. It's been awhile since I've felt 'that' kind of exhaustion.

If you've been on the web or out and about you've seen the devastation from the storm and I won't recap it too much here. The pictures and music tributes popping up are like a wave themselves: Roads, bridges, homes, and in many cases livelihoods washed away.

Back last Sunday, we knew the storm would land but certainly didn't expect this amount of damage.

Up until then I'd never experienced a flash flood.

I walked outside around 1020am. There were just puddles in the road and it was raining... hard.

Roughly 10 minutes later I heard a car drive by and sloshing some serious water. I looked outside and grabbed a camera... here's what I found as I looked down the road North:

I walked inside to look across the other side of the house, then out front again... 10 minutes tops. I walked out in the road in some sandals to see how deep it was... and could feel the water rising up my legs as I stood there filming.

Just then a truck drove up and a water logged fellow leaned out and and said the brook had run over and the flooding will get a lot worse... and we'd  better get out. Here's the video of these two gents driving up:

I walked inside and told Janice and the kids, calmly so... it was time to evacuate. It's a surreal thing to say really to your family... You go into a bit of an overdrive mode, a facilitator who keeps folks from panicking. The next 10 minutes ran the gambit of emotions, especially for the munchkins.

What would you take, what would you do if you were told to evacuate your home in just a few minutes?

Almost exactly 10 minutes later we had the car loaded, two dogs, a few bags of clothes and were ready to drive out. I asked Janice to open the garage door and I ran inside quickly to make sure things were locked up. As I rounded the corner into the living room someone was pounding on the door.

I opened the door and found a member Fire Department... he told me in short order that they were evacuating homes. If we wanted to go they'd take us now... and that they may not be able to get us later.

I explained to this fellow that we had the car packed and were ready to go... and he told me the water was too high. "You'll flood the car and never get out. The end of the road is already washed out in your neighborhood." When I looked over his shoulder to one fellow standing in the road, the water was almost two feet high on his legs.

In roughly 10 minutes the water had gone from 2-3 inches to over two feet... and was moving fast.

37 minutes... and counting...

They asked how many folks we had, if the dogs were friendly... and they helped us carry two kids, two dogs, a small bag of dog food and we piled into the fire truck. We picked up two more neighbors on the way out and just a few minutes later were off onto Richville Road... which was now completely submerged in five inches of water.

Skipping a few details here about crossing a bridge you could no longer see... we were off to Town Hall... the emergency shelter.

There were some great folks at the shelter, taking out what they had, helping folks be comfortable. Water and some snacks started to arrive. I was working with the kids, we played a game... I flitted about on the web answering texts from friends asking how were doing.

About two hours later we were picked up by some friends with an invite to stay over. Reports came in that power, water and sewer had been shutoff to our neighborhood. On the way to their house... I felt it felt a bit like some sort of Disney ride... rivers pounding bridges, washing out house foundations... trees tumbling down peoples lawns in floods of water. Trees rifling down Benson's Hole, a gorge of sorts, hitting a small ravine that now resembled a ariel ski jump and then bursting into pieces.

I watched a large lawn tractor mixed in with trees and a full size propane tank roll down someones lawn in the flood and on down the river.

In the back of my mind... I was wondering how our neighborhood and how our house was doing.

It was a long night.

37 minutes... puddles to evacuation... what could I have done differently... what would be destroyed... what would be left...

My mind went over the pictures we might lose, my children's drawings the generations of family christmas things... my guitar, music equipment, music charts, comic books, baseball cards, books and toys. The equipment in the house... the furnace... the water heater... the pellet stove...

... reams of old handwritten notes from baseball, from classes, from clinics...

Then you here stories of houses washing away. Bridges being torn away. Towns becoming isolated islands, impassible to any road in or out.

It was a long night.

By the next morning, now Monday, the water had receeded. I skimmed an email that our opening in-service had been canceled... no doubt a good thing. We waited for the roads and bridges going to our development to be declared open and then worked out way in. Most of the road into the development had washed out. Boulders... narrow lanes to and fro... and we worked our way over to the house.

It looked like the water line had gotten up about a foot away from the house.

And I thought about how lucky we might be.

We entered... the first floor was dry. Intact. No damage.

We went inside and checked the basement, and found this... a picture I took after I started to move things around a bit.

It's a odd feeling... a flood, seeing your belongings floating around. I sloshed over to the bulkhead, grabbed some tools and... started to walk around in the water... scanning.

As I stood there... my oldest baseball glove floated by.

It's just stuff. And everyone was safe.

"I was sentimental when I was old."

I pulled my guitar case out of the water... and watched the water drain from the case. I opened it... and poured the water from the sound hole. Ruined. I picked up the stereo, the Wii, Wii Fit. A strange effort to... maybe salvage some items... some water logged electronics. Somewhere along the way I put a tape measure in the water. The mechanical room, the finished basement and all contents were under 8 inches of water.

By the time I stuck the first sump pump in 1.5 hours later (a neighbor brought down a generator) the water had risen to 14".

We pumped for 4 hours with one, 1" pump and the water went from 14"... down to... 14".

Then the cavalry arrived and I put three pumps in. Over the next 8 hours we pumped from 14" down to 2". We called it quits around 11pm. I had to eat, take a shower... and get ready for the first day of in-service...

I didn't sleep that night.

I spent most of the time wondering how much more damage there was, what we'd return too the next morning. Before I knew it, as I walked around our guests neighborhood...

I thought of an old Tom Waits line in a song... "the dawn cracked hard like a bullwhip..." and it did.

On the way I to school I stopped by the house to see if we'd gained water... and was very happy to see we didn't. My thoughts were on all the work to do... and the thought of heading out that morning to our school in-service that Tuesday morning was a bit, for lack of a better term, like wading through fog. I hadn't slept in 48 hours and was by no means thinking about working meetings, opening speeches or the like. After some short meetings at school I headed back to assess the damage in more detail.

The list of casualties was long: Furnace, water heater, pellett stove, stereo, speakers... pictures... artwork... my guitar... decades of comic books and graphic novels, baseball cards...

It's a long list.

After I started vacuuming out the water and lugging some stuff out...

... the cavalry arrived.

The BBA Girls Soccer Team and some others helped carry things out of the basement. Their efforts saved me countless hours of exhausting work... emptying out a storage room... marching things to the garage, the lawn to dry or straight to the dumpster. Rob Hunter, Nancy Strain, a new teacher at BBA... about 22 folks in all. Full to empty and ready to muck in just over three hours.

Rob Hunter, Anthony Boucher and I... moving two water logged couches...

The surreal part for me came that evening. Janice, Doug Rawson and I  pulled apart reams of water logged pictures and laid them all over the first floor of the house... every surface... over 30 years worth of memories... some dating back over 60-70 years.

It's a surreal feeling... pumping out your basement, looking at decades of pictures all laid out, sorting through water logged things, wondering what the financial impact just might add up to...

After another 16 hour day, we called it and went for some sleep.

On Wednesday... the first day of classes for Freshman and my Junior Advisory... I skipped out. I needed to get a bunch of appointments in motion to get things running again... and then get on to mucking. The water had already soaked up the insulation and sheetrock nearly a foot over the last 24 hours. I got a quick text from my friend Chris that am. He said he'd be over the following day to help out. I sent a text back saying I'd dive in, do what I could today. 20 minutes later he walked in... appointments canceled, ready to dive in. 10 minutes after Chris arrived Todd Ameden dove in too with tools in tow.

We worked for 10 hours to muck out the basement. Here's a bit of it:

The effort those two gents put in for our family that day is something I won't soon forget.

After they left, I continued sorting through boxes, tossing water logged... stuff.

The pictures were saved for the most part. A good thing, no doubt.

I ran out of gas that night... after staying up over 72 hours and exerting that much energy left me pretty taxed. I checked the basement fans and dehumidifiers and had something to eat. When I came out... some neighbors had showed up. They moved all the remaining stuff out of the basement and into the garage and helped us clean up a bit. For the 12 people that helped out... it was about 1/2 hour of work. For Janice and I... it would have been another long marathon of work well into the wee hours of the morning.

I remember going to sleep that night... barely.

In the days that followed, things were drying out. The dehumidifiers were drawing out over 20 gallons of water every six hours.

The house was at a standstill... rather than a rapid decay.

Friday night, Janice and I helped a neighbor muck out. Saturday, another 14 hours of tinkering for another few neighbors. 

When a person at school asked why I was out helping other neighbors dig out most of the day Friday and Saturday... I simply said "I couldn't sit at home. So many folks had helped us out over these few days... after a bit of sleep. I felt the need to do the same."

I've told many people since this started... if you're going to go out and exercise... go help somebody instead.

With the threat of more rain on last night, Sunday night... I checked the basement every two hours... pumps ready if needed.

Not a trace of water came in.

Four dehumidifiers continue to parse the air... down to about 12 gallons total every six hours.

Today, this Labor Day... I shored up a good slew of work lost from this crazy week... and tonight... at long last, I feel ready to get some sleep.

For all the great folks that helped us out... those who came and worked and hauled, those who checked in offering help, those who brought us a generator and pumps, the great folks who brought us food... the folks who helped us get our power and hot water restored...

To the BBATA...

To BBA itself and the incredible group of students who dedicated their time to help us and the other folks in our neighborhood...

You all helped peel off layers of exhaustion and stress for this family and so many other folks here in the community.

My friend Dan French sent a note out yesterday... about gearing up the neighborhood for an Oktoberfest of sorts...

I'm in...

... and I'll be sending out a lot of invitations.

It's raining hard at the moment again... and I'm finding my thoughts wander back... an urge to check the basement, my mind flits over the location of the pumps like fingers flitting over some controls... and that we caught the mold before it took flight.

Everyone's safe.

The basement is drying out.

Things are moving forward.

Goodnight Irene.


  1. I’m in shock, I can’t believe what I just read and saw. I’m so glad you and your family are fine. It’s amazing what the folks up there did. All the help they provided. I’m sure the perspective of life must have changed for you and your family after this event.
    Remember the movie: Gone with the Wind? I like the following quote and I think it might come in handy: Scarlett: I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.
    Thanks for sharing and have a good night sleep.
    Eni Valdés

  2. Adam, I had no idea Irene had struck Vermont! I read about the flooding in USA but I didn´t realize it was your hometown.
    Reading through your story made me think what I would do in that case. What I would take with me if I needed to leave my house in an emergency...
    I´m glad you and your family are safe and I am impressed by all the help from friends and neighbors. A great reminder of the important things in life: family, friends, friendship...