There are times when biblical images become all too real as they did in South Carolina in early October.
“The basement is flooding.”
All night long I heard steady and hard rain, but I am disoriented when my husband shakes me awake. The power is out – rendering the sump pump useless. Water pours in, soon to reach the furnace. “I am going to try and bail it out.”
There are not enough buckets to match the torrents of rain. I search but cannot immediately locate a flashlight. The air is so moist it takes four matches to get one to light the lone candle on my dining room table. I walk through the house with the small flame accounting for the two dogs, one cat and two children still at home. All of a sudden it feels critical to know where every living being is located should we need to get them out in a hurry. That small circle of light is precious.
My husband siphons out the basement pool with a hose, but nothing is a match for the water. Besides, now we smell gas. “Take the girls out of the house.” “Where?” “Go to Waffle House.”
The girls are curled up together in the older one’s bed. The younger one had gotten scared in the night. I shake them and say, “You need to get up.” “What’s going on?!” “We think we smell gas, we’ve got someone coming to check, but just to be safe I am taking you out of the house for a while.” “What about Dad?” “He will be fine, he knows what to do.” Then there is the inevitable question about all the pets. “Dad will get them out if he needs to.”
We can’t get to the Waffle House. Gills Creek, now a river, blocks access to the interstate, also overwhelming the road that would be our normal route to Waffle House. We can barely make it around the corner where we park in a parking lot, one that in a few more hours will be submerged.
There was no gas leak. Just oil seeping from somewhere deep underground, conjured up by the force of the water that is not only coming down from the sky but bubbling up from the ground.
Back home we huddle together and start to remember our neighbors, the ones who live right beside Gills Creek. We start calling. No answer. My oldest reaches her friend via text. “The water is up to their door.” Tell them to come here, I say. “They can’t get out.” Ask them if we can come get them, I say. “She says we can’t, the water is too fast.”
“Should we take the canoe?” I ask my husband. “Maybe.” We go in the other room to discuss what to do and soon there is a knock at our door. Someone with a fishing boat got them out –mom, daughters and dog – and they have walked up the hill to our house. The dad remained to help others on their street.
An elderly couple refuses to leave. Their daughter, a state away, is on the phone with my neighbor, frantic. Eventually, the man who has been going back and forth, house to house, stumbles out his boat, tearful, “They won’t come! I can’t go back. My boat can’t handle the current!” He keeps repeating, “I did all I could, I did all I could.” A mass of wet people embrace him and say, “We know, we know. You did. You did great. Thank you.”
We all stand dripping in my dry living room. My neighbor whose house is all but underwater says over and over, “It’s just stuff. We will be OK, it is just stuff.”
There is one more attempt to rescue the elderly neighbors. The two sopping wet men in my home go back to try and convince him to get out. His wife is willing now. We wait. It feels like a long time.
Our two men return. The elderly couple is safe. The dawn is breaking, the light increases as the water continues to rise and neighbors, who until now had no idea how much they loved one another, come together all over Columbia.