Flood house

On Tuesday I volunteered at a house that was badly flooded last week. That evening I wrote out some thoughts to share with friends, mostly needing to process the experience for myself. Here’s what I wrote.

I spent a couple of hours today helping clean up a flooded house this afternoon. It’s in the general part of the world where I think [a friend’s] parents live, the area which the earliest and worst reports of flooding came from. Now I understand why. It’s all hills, and several streams in that area beat their previous high-water records by a lot — so a lot of people who live on hills are totally fine, and a number of people who live between hills are totally not. This house is in a deep notch between ridges, right beside the Swatara creek. The water-mark on the house and surrounding trees was unbelievable (no direct neighbors, it’s all woods around them). The water was 3 or 4 feet deep on their second floor.

People have been working in this location since the weekend, so a lot of stuff has been stripped out already. There’s a huge pile of trash in the front of the building, ripped-out carpet and busted-up sodden drywall and all manner of wrecked and broken things. There’s all sorts of furniture laid out around the end of the building, trying to dry or just waiting to get taken away, I don’t know which. We rescued a number of tools from a back room today, some of that stuff may be salvageable. All covered with mud, toolboxes sloshing with water as well as tools.

Hard, hard work. Water is heavy stuff, and so much we pulled out was full of it. When I got there, I helped carry clothing outside from the second floor, great piles of it (I have no idea why there are so many clothes there, tons of clothing). A lady upstairs pitched stuff down the steps, and a couple of us gathered it up and hauled it outside. Heavy, hard work; piles of sodden, heavy material. I had a fierce headache after just a couple of hours of work, because it’s hot today and I’m just not in shape for it. I did what I could, but I didn’t have more in me than a couple of hours.

Completely random collection of people, working at this house. People from various churches and organizations, scattered around the area. An older couple stopped by and dropped off food. Someone from the Salvation Army (he came down here from Massachusetts, bless him) did the same. When I was leaving, a truck from the Red Cross pulled up with cleaning supplies.

I’m glad I never saw the house before. I wouldn’t want to compare what it is now with what it used to be. Huge old building, I doubt it started out life as a house (I’m not sure it is entirely a private residence, it could be a B&B — reminded me of an old inn, maybe). Stone building, with some siding at the top. Date carved into the low back step, 1837. I might remember that wrong, but early 1800s. It’s like a cave inside now, dark, all bare, all sodden, smelling of damp and mud, bare slippery floors. I still feel like I get a whiff of mud sometimes, sitting in my own living room. There are much worse smells in the world, but this one stays with me today. Gooey, gooey mud everywhere. When I got home, the clothes I was wearing went straight into the washing machine, and I went straight into the shower. All the trees and plants around the place were coated with mud, all uniformly brown, all through the woods. I’ve never seen anything like that.

I still can’t actually get my head around the amount of water that came through this little hole in the hills. I saw the stream, it’s not that big. I saw the waterline on the trees and the building, and I still have trouble picturing that little stream, turning into that much water.

I feel like I did so little, compared to the pile of work that needs doing. I know it helped and it counts, but it still feels very little. What a huge job ahead for those folks. What a huge, awful, messy job.

I’m really glad I never saw that house before.

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