The evening of Friday, August 19th seemed perfectly normal. The sun was shining and my roommates and I were milling around the house getting ready to go to a farewell party for a dear friend who is moving to England. Fresh hummus had been made for the occasion as well as our signature no-pudge, with-pudge brownies (you understand, of course.)
[I should at this point add that although, technically, there are only four people living in this house, in actuality, this house has five roommates. I shall call them M, J, E, L, and me, your host, KP.]
Just before 7 o’clock, we began to hear thunder. As the party is set to begin at 7 and we have been asked to bring food, J and I wander upstairs to see if M and L are very nearly ready (E is going to a different party and has made the-world’s-best-cupcakes to take with her). As 7 o’clock hits, it begins to rain. By 7:02, it is clear that this is going to be more than a light shower. At 7:05, it has started to hail. Undeterred, J and I proceed with trying to leave quickly so as not to arrive “fashionably” late. I throw on a rain coat and dash out to my car to get more umbrellas. As I come inside, I’m delighted to find that my other roommates had made it downstairs, with M proclaiming that this is simply just a drizzle and what in the world was all the fuss about. L announces that she is returning upstairs and will wait another 15 minutes for the rain to subside. I decide to run down to my bedroom to see if I can find the large golf umbrella that I just can’t seem to put my hands on.
As I turn the corner to my downstairs bedroom, I blink twice. There is water pouring into my bedroom through the window. I scream. I yell for anyone to come downstairs. I grab my bath towel and fling it on the window sill, shouting at whichever poor soul came downstairs first to get more towels. E and M are downstairs with me, trying to stop up the water, move my bookshelf, and get everything off my floor when we hear J scream from upstairs (note: J is likely the most calm of all of us. Her screaming meant that there was A Problem.)
We dash upstairs. J, in a moment of brilliance, has determined that the water must be resulting from something blocking the drain in the window well. She has run outside in the torrential downpour, stuck her hand down the 2 1/2 foot deep window well that is rapidly filling with water, and felt “something slimy”. Hence, the scream. M determines it must be a snake and wants nothing to do with it.
Meanwhile, water continues pouring into my bedroom.
In all crises, there seems to be a deciding point. Where people rise to the occasion. Where calamity actually does set in. Where heroes are made and people’s true colors come out. All of these things did happen, but more so than all of these, this was the moment when we moved past calamity and into absurdity.
Please remember that this is a rented house full of 20-something women whose prior most pressing concern about our house was getting curtains hung up. Also keep in mind that we have lived here for less than a month.
At this point, J and I run outside and do the only thing that seems sensible. Start hauling water out of the window well. I yell into the house for someone to hand me a pot from the stove, J grabs a watering can that had floated off the front steps, and we set to bailing out the well. You may also be interested to know that I am wearing a floor-length jersey skirt and a formerly-billowy-now-soaking-wet green shirt. Within 10 seconds, I am totally, utterly, soaked-to-the-bone drenched. J and I are on our hands and knees, recklessly throwing water behind us. As we are doing this, J hits me full on the face with a bucket of water, and all I can do is laugh. The water is freezing cold, I can’t see 2 feet in front of me because my glasses are covered in water, and all I can do is laugh.
M and L run back downstairs to continue with the towel situation and E stands in the kitchen, frantically trying to get anyone useful on the phone (this includes, but was in no way limited to our contractor, our realtor, any homeowners we knew, men who lived near us, people who were generally regarded as “helpful”). As it is 7:30 on a Friday night, no one answers. E is undeterred and continues calling.
Outside, J and I seem to be barely able to empty out the window well as the rain is falling so hard. As we are continuing in our desperation, one of our neighbors (whom we have not met) appears, in the pouring rain, to ask if he can help. Mercy. He jumps right in the window well, seems to determine that nothing is blocking the drain, and disappears again. J and I continue bailing out the window well with limited success.
But J, again with more brilliance, has decided that the best course of action would be to find a tarp, get some sandbags, and line the well with them to stop the water from pouring in (as that is what they seem to do in real floods). J continues scooping out the water, and I dash down the street, behind the row of townhouses, to their old house, where there should be a tarp in the backyard. The alley behind our house has become a river. My glasses are still covered in water and I try several fence doors before coming to the right one, but it is locked. Turning back up the river, I grab a trashcan that is stuck in the current and take it back to our house, nearly tripping over my skirt in the process.
Back at the ranch, L has managed to get one of those “helpful” people on the phone and has rather stressfully explained our predicament. Well, she explained it twice, as the first time the story didn’t really sink in to our dear friend who probably assumed we were calling to ask directions to the party, not for lifesaving efforts. He dashed off to Home Depot to buy some sandbags and come save us.
As I come back to the house with the trash can that I hope will somehow be helpful, it becomes clear that we do not have a vision for what to do next. We have no tarp, no sandbags, and no real way to keep water out of the basement. At this moment, our mysterious neighbor returns with an old door to put over the well and fully cover it. M has run down the street to her old next-door-neighbor’s house to see if they have a tarp, which they do not. Also at the moment, our next-door neighbor sticks her head out the door and asks if she can doing anything to help. Miraculously, she has both a tarp and a bag of sand, left over from her children’s sandbox. Her husband runs them out to us.
J and I manage to tie up the tarp over the well (the door has neglectfully been cast to the side) and we put one sand bag at the base to try and hold it down. M has remembered the ginormous bag of salt we have in the basement and hauls that upstairs to help with the tarp.
Our Home-Depot-dashing-friend has gotten stuck in traffic, which of course popped right up since there was rain and we live in Northern Virginia, so M and L decide to hop in their car and get some sand bags, only to discover that the end of our street has flooded and we can’t get out.
With the tarp at least partially in place, we turn our attentions to the basement. M and L have managed to move my bookshelf away from the window and throw anything that was on my floor up onto my bed. They also have the presence of mind to unplug simply everything and also put that on the bed. The carpet is now completely soaked as well as the multi-colored towels that are attempting to keep it dry. J and I are dripping wet and throw on some dry clothes to help with the work inside. Our next-door neighbor appears at our door with a crate full of towels and rags for us to use in the basement, so we take the first line of towels out, throw them in the dryer and set up the newest line of defense.
E has left messages for our contractor and talked to our realtor whose only real advice was to call a plumber. Somehow, I don’t think she grasped the scope of the situation.
As the rain was subsiding, our friend made it onto our street with several sandbags in tow. We added those to our impressive collection on the front lawn (now including an unused door, a trash can, eight sand bags, a bag of salt, the handle of a broom, a tarp, some twine, a watering can, and several pots and pans) as the rain began to die down.
A few more neighbors stopped by to see what they could do to help, and we turned our full attention to the inside. At this point, my capacity to make decisions has vanished. When someone suggests that we rip up the carpet, remove the padding under the carpet, and attempt to dry the carpet, I find myself agreeing, then watching as my newly moved-in furniture is carted out of my bedroom and down the hall into the other half of the basement. My roommates as well as two neighbors (whom I had not met until 5 minutes prior) are lifting out drawers, disassembling my bed and moving my file cabinet with such speed that you would think this was a regular occurrence. At several points, my roommates nearly dissolve into laughter because what.else.are.you.going.to.do.
M somehow knows that we have neighbors who have a shop vac, and within minutes, there are two sitting in my basement. The neighbors leave once the carpet is up, E decides she can still make it to her party, and J returns to her house, leaving M, L, our helpful friend, and me with one emptied bedroom, two shop vacs and a kitchen full of hummus, brownies, and half of the worlds-best-cupcakes. Its 9:35pm, which seems like as good a time as any to eat dinner.
In the following 24 hours, we borrowed several fans and a dehumidifier, finally got a hold of our contractor who ultimately decided to throw the carpeting away in spite of our best efforts, and talked to our landlord (who lives in Greece) who was marvelously grateful and responsible for the whole thing. We will have new drywall put in this week after the gutters are fixed, the drain is inspected and a sump-pump is installed. I have set up a make-shift bedroom in the second half of our basement and done 4 loads of laundry consisting mainly of towels. Five thank-you notes have been written to kind and generous neighbors and 8 dozen cookies have been baked to show, in the smallest way, how grateful we are for this community.
I have spent the day laughing with my roommates about the comedy of last night’s events (we have 8 sandbags in our front yard! really!) and listing the numerous ways in which God’s grace was evident to us throughout yesterday’s flood. For example: I had just gotten back from a week-long vacation. If this had happened while I was gone, no one would have noticed and my possessions would likely all be ruined. Or: If punctuality had won the day, or if I had remembered that the golf umbrella was in the trunk of my car, I would not have run downstairs to discover the water until after we returned from the party. Or: If our neighbors were not so generous and attentive, I would have quickly been overwhelmed, totally unable to make decisions.
We are so, so grateful for all who helped, offered to help, have since offered to help, and have been willing to love us well in the midst of what is, in the grand view of things, really rather small. You are all so dear to us.