The sky was ominous out my window on Friday October 2, 2015 and it had been raining on and off for what seemed like days. Weeks, even. Saturday came, and more rain. I remember baking batches of pumpkin muffins while the kids played indoors. We were happy, content with the pitter patter as my kitchen filled with the smell of October. I was looking forward to getting the porch pumpkins and mums after church the next day – my perfect way to celebrate the “most wonderful time of year.” But I never got my pumpkins.
I woke up about three a.m. that Saturday morning to the sound of driving rain. Unable to sleep, I made my way to the couch. Rain was tinkering into the house through a small gap in the flue closure of the gas fireplace. It began to splatter onto the painted brick hearth. I blocked out the sound, and fell asleep on the couch, waking up to my husband saying, “We need to check the basement.” I snapped to attention and followed him downstairs to the kids’ playroom around 6 a.m. When he stepped off the last stair, water splashed up from the carpet, pooling around his feet.
Before the kids woke up, we tried moving our belongings upstairs. My husband located his phone to call a company to see about pumping out the water, but he was distracted by a barrage of photos, texts and posts on Facebook. Strangely enough this scene, this waking up to water, was everywhere. We seemed to be some of the lucky ones…
My husband jumped in the car, allowing our older daughter to ride with him, to check the levels of nearby Lake Katharine one street over. They could not even make it past the end of our street. Neighbors were floating up and down the street in John boats as the swollen lake had overtaken its borders and the surrounding streets, cars and houses. My husband came back with our daughter, who was letting loose her own river of frightened tears. He grabbed a rain hat and went back out, this time without the car. I didn’t see him again all morning. Rain was still coming down, and I kept refreshing my phone for Facebook updates about what was going on our neighborhood. Was it this bad everywhere? This felt like a twilight zone version of Titanic.
As if moving through an incomprehensible dream, I began filling the bathtubs with water and saving water in every thermos and container I could find. Trying to reassure my daughters was a struggle when I was uncertain about what was going on myself. Some of our neighbors came over to seek higher ground, as the water’s edge was knocking on their doorstep around the corner. We played board games and I made hot dogs (forget bread and milk- thank goodness I had the hot dogs!) for lunch, and we had the pumpkin muffins, too. It began to feel even more like Titanic – the part where the people are walking around in their evening dresses and life jackets, drinking cocktails, unsure of their next move. We were going through the motions, trying to keep calm, but were filled with uncertainty.
We kept checking Facebook for neighborhood updates, but it felt like we were in an isolation chamber. As the stories came out, we became more and more concerned. People were being rescued from second story windows, and some homes were completely destroyed. Thankfully, everyone was present and accounted for, even if completely shaken.
What happened over the next week was also surreal. We were evacuated on Monday because it was feared another dam was going to burst, and we left our home in a National Guard vehicle with neighbors and their pets. Thankfully, we were able to return the next day, and that particular dam did hold, but that awful night I was filled with fear of what we would find when we returned.
For a week we assumed a strange and methodical routine. People figured out what to do. How to help themselves. How to help each other. Get up. Go to your Post (handing out water, ripping out flooring, watching neighborhood children so parents could work…). Work your post until the day was done. Collapse into bed and do it all over again the next day. Like pioneers. Like Survivor. It was just the strangest thing. Choppers were hovering overhead, day in and day out. National guard and police were manning every street. Would things ever be normal? What, even, was normal?
But in all of the loss, all of the devastation, there was a sense of community that kept everyone going. Not just the people within the affected neighborhoods but those from nearby neighborhoods and far flung states coming in buses and vans and helping out doing whatever they could. I remember looking up from the water tent several days into the cleanup, and there was this sliver of a rainbow, peeking through the hazy clouds. God’s covenant. God’s “I got this.” What had He been trying to teach us? Did we see? He was there the whole time. I think we all learned something in those weeks following “The Flood.” No matter whether your home was destroyed, slightly damaged, or spared. Whether you were rescuer or rescued. Whether you took shelter or offered it. Whether you took a hand or extended it. Or all of the above. Tables were turned. Roles were reversed. Prayers were lifted and God was sought. Maybe the Lord’s will was for the creek, er, creeks (and lakes and rivers…) to rise to reveal something. We should not worry, as it will not add another hour to our lives. He was teaching us something we could only learn from Him. And he was teaching us that he will never let us down.
Almost two years later, the neighborhood is finally nearing the stages of healing. Houses have been repaired or rebuilt. And the hum of choppers overhead and rumble of National Guard vehicles has long been replaced by the chirping of crickets and laughter of children running in the yards and fishing in the little lake. Few have moved away. If anything, I think the sense of community has made this place even more sought-after as a potential home. I know I don’t want to leave.
But I will confess, even with an extra dose of faith, it may take our family – and many Columbia, South Carolina families – just a little bit longer before rain is considered “sleeping weather” again.
Kelly Barbrey wanted to be a meteorologist when she was in third grade. She would tape the weather section of the Atlanta Journal to her pull-down window shade and point at it with a yardstick. She will be keeping a watchful eye on Irma and Jose this weekend.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2