Saturday, July 20, 2013

I still cry a lot...

Sometimes for myself, but mostly for others.

It has been one month now since our house flooded.  One crazy month.  After saving and salvaging what we could from the house, then sorting, cleaning and storing everything, we moved on to dealing with insurance and applying for disaster relief.

I have learned more than I really ever wanted to know about insurance.  Made a few mistakes along the way.  One big one, not enough photos of flooded items.  And I don't think I will every look at an insurance policy the same way again.  I also think I will look into storing documents differently.  You know those little booklets the insurance company sends you where you can itemize everything in your house, those are a good idea.  I will be using one in the future.  It is amazing how much you can forget, each day I remember something that is lost.  And it all adds up quickly.  In hindsight, we were very under insured.

I am also learning the importance of living with less.  We were lucky, the main floor of our house was spared.  People have generously offered us clothing and shoes for our children.  Our children lost very little.  When I went through their belongings I felt as though they could actually donate some of their things to others in need.

In the middle of this experience, I took an impromptu trip to Australia to see my sister Lucia.  Her husband is battling cancer and my other sister and I felt it was important to spend some time with them. This trip gave me a break from all flood stuff, and it gave me perspective.  When people tell you 'You were lucky, you got out safely and are all well', they are right.  I know it was of little consolation when all my belonging were swirling in a giant poopy mud puddle in my basement, but when I look at my husband and children, I am reminded of my great fortune.

When I hear the stories of High River, where home owners have not been allowed re-entry for 25 days, and the Siksika Nation and Hidden Valley, where whole homes were washed away.  Lifetimes of memories gone.  So many people homeless.  I remember the sense of anxiety I felt for two days waiting to get into my home, I can't imagine the anguish of waiting nearly a month, while black mould takes over, causing more devastation than the rising river and backing up sewers.  I realize we were lucky, it could have been much much worse.

This is when I cry.  I cry for these people who have lost everything. The people who 'You were lucky you got out safely and are all well' is still of little consolation.  I cry for the people who didn't have a garage ready to accept saved belongings, the people who didn't have family they could stay with during the evacuation, and after when their homes were destroyed.  I cry for the people who made valiant efforts to move their belongings up from the basement only to have their main floor flood.  I cry for the people who weren't able to salvage precious photos or jewellery.

I also cry when I am moved by the overwhelming goodness of the human spirit.  Of neighbours helping each others out, of strangers helping strangers, of friends helping friends.  I cry tears of joy when I am moved by the community spirt that has abound in this terrible situation.  And I am reminded, we lost some stuff, but we found a community and yes, we were lucky, we got out safely and we are all well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Rescue, Recover, Salvage

We were allowed a brief look at the house late Saturday night (June 22) once the water had receded.  My heart sank.  There was 3 feet of mud brown yucky water in my basement.  My bedroom door was swollen shut, and a layer of silt covered every surface where water had been.  It was a disaster.  I barely slept that night, the anxiety of what to expect was so great.

I drove my friends back to the airport.  A vacation they are sure to never forget, I am sure.  Though I am not sure how I would have got through the previous days with out the extra support they afforded me, we had made lists, discussed worst case scenarios, worked out plans of attack, as only one thinks they can when faced with this sort of situation.

We returned to the house midmorning on Sunday and my sister in law and a handful of neighbours had filled two trucks full of our belongings that were above water.  We set in and continued packing, a woman whom I had never met arrived at my door to ask how she could help.  Thinking she was with the others I asked her to help pack the kitchen.  Over the next couple of hours, I found out she wasn't with the earlier group of neighbours, but had a friend down the street who she had come to help.  When the friend had not arrived, she just looked for someone else to help, and that turned out to be us.  This was to be the atmosphere for the next few days.  Neighbours and community rallying to help each other out.  There were beverages being handed out, food trays passed around.  People covered in mud.

Once we emptied the top dry floors of the house we headed down, down to the muck filled basement.  A kind neighbour had pumped out the water so there was only about 20 cm still there.  I wandered with my steel toed rubber boots through the water, picking out things that could be salvaged.  These were then rinsed and packed for further cleaning.  The devastation on that level was intense, the smell horrible and the mud slippery.

In the master bedroom people uprighted chests of drawers, trying to salvage all that was in them.  Three good friends worked tirelessly sifting through the mud to find valuables, there were small mercies.  Items that when found would make me laugh or cry.  A picture of my brother and I when we were children was a rare treasure.  I cried with joy, I was so sad that I thought I had lost it and now here it was, muddy, but here.  Tamara, a true gem, went as far as borrowing a sieve from a neighbour to see if she could find my pearl earrings that I got as a wedding present and an Emma Glover ring that is precious to me.  She found one earring, an opal from my mother and the ring but sadly not the pearls.  These two finds we like striking it rich in the gold mines.

The feeling of community coming together was overwhelming.  Neighbours really rallied to help out.  I found out I was living among an amazing group of people.  These people spent every free moment helping others out.  There were pumps going and things being moved out as quickly as possible.  And that was even before the salvage began.

It was a day of small celebrations, lots of hard work, a feeling of community and a lot of laughter despite what we were going through.

I know that I will ever be able to truly thank all the people who helped, especially Jen, Tamara and Lynn.  Who not only did they spend the entire Sunday with us cleaning, but continued through out the week with all the other tasks that go with recovering from a flood.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A River Runs Through It

It has been a while since I have done a blog post, and a lot has been going on.  There is much back story to be told, but today I focus on one thing, the Calgary Flood of June 2013.

When we arrived  in Calgary in February we rented a house on the river, a truly spectacular spot.  It is spacious, huge bedrooms and an amazing huge back garden probably 20X20 metres in size.  Great for the children.  It is close to downtown, walking distance for Mark's work.  Bike paths surround.  And just two doors away from a lovely large dog park.

On Thursday June 20th, many of the surrounding neighbourhoods were being evacuated, we weren't as we were on the higher side of the river.  We decided to prepare for potential evacuation, we were told by neighbours that that was what had happened in 2005, the last big flood, but the house we were in and all the surrounding ones on our block had never flooded.  We packed a light bag with enough clothing for 72 hours.  Grabbed our laptop and the pets and headed for higher ground with relatives.

A good friend and her daughters had just arrived that day for a 3 day weekend with us.  We were so excited to see them.  I had our days planned out.  Early morning walks along the river with the dog, a trip up the Calgary Tower and two events planned for the weekend at the Glenbow Museum.  (I packed in my light bag an outfit for the evening event, I even dashed quickly back into the house to grab a scarf, to accessorize.)  Now we were 9 evacuees with a dog and cat on a rainy day in the high side of Calgary.  

It was late by the time we got to where we were staying so we fed the children and got them all off to bed.  We had little time for visiting as we were busy with these tasks.

At 4:20 am, I received a text message from a friend who lives a block from me.  She was still in her house and they had 3 feet of water in her basement.  I knew that my house was only slightly higher that hers so this was bad news.  We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best, we had moved things off the floor in the basement, we put it on shelves and on top of the dryer.

Text messages flooded in, we watched the news, the flooding was much bigger and disastrous than any one had imagined.  We watched in horror the footage, downtown Calgary was being turned into one massive river as the water from both the Elbow and Bow River converged in record heights.

Again, fingers crossed, perhaps we were high enough.  But then we contacted another neighbour from higher up the hill, he confirmed my fears, sewers had back up late Thursday evening and now our house was surrounded by water, a couple feet of it.  I knew this meant my basement was flooded, and likely all the items we moved to higher shelves would be floating around in the muck.  My master bedroom, with all my clothes and belongings was also likely swirling with water.

I spent the next 24 hours alternating emotions.  I cried, was angry, guilty, felt ashamed of my stupidity, regretful, you name it, but mostly I cried.  Well wishes came in, 'At least we were safe'.  Even this was hard to remember at times, but we were and I know that.  When I hugged Pippa before bed, that notion was reinforced, we were safe, and we well and all together.

It may not have been the weekend I had planned, but it was a new adventure.