I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that I’ve taken quite the break from writing and photography. It has been over two years since my soul shattered into a million pieces and I’m just starting to be okay with talking publicly about what happened to Shaun and me Memorial Day 2015. I’ve re-written this post 10+ times and I still get a knot in my stomach when I go over the events of that day – being stuck in the 1000 year flood here in Central Texas. You never are quite prepared for being stuck in a traumatizing emergency situation and you sure as hell don’t expect to have it when you’re vulnerable and at home.
The home I’m referring to isn’t my cute, quaint apartment, but my “heart” home. The one found in the 200 year old pecan grove where our regional burn event is held – Flipside. This place has been one of rebirth, reassessment, reevaluations, self-awareness, and most of all, community. It is the one thing that brought me out of the incredibly dark space that I was sucked into when I got back home from travel. It is my social and creative rock. It is the reason why we stopped and decided to pick up roots again.
After the burn, Shaun and I had decided to stay an extra day to help out with volunteer cleanup to ensure the land was pristine before we left (Leave no trace!). Our theme camp had long since gone and we were left with our SoulPad (my glamping castle), A&T’s trailer, M’s RV, and S’s 40ft big rig RV. There was rain in the forecast for the afternoon – but as El Nino had decided to already be a huge bitch, it had dumped torrential rain on us all weekend. While slopping through the mud and cow patties – what was one more bout of rain? We had made it this far.
A&T headed out to do their last volunteer shifts while M, S, Shaun and I, went into that 40ft monster and proceeded to chill out while the storm passed. Fat, wet drops violently started splattering on the windshield. I looked out the window and started to feel uneasy. In just a few seconds, howling wind tore through the grove. The normally serene pecan trees went horizontal, the leaves hanging on for dear life – their branches twisted in pain. The wind even made the big rig shake. But more than anything, it was the green sky that gave me the willies.
Anyone in tornado alley knows that that means.
But it came and went and the storm was relatively uneventful for the lot of us in the RV. I peeked out the window at the campground – our tent was still standing, so as far as I was concerned, we made it through. “A” quickly pulled up shortly thereafter, visibly shaken, with tears in her eyes.
She was providing mental health services in the medical tent when the loudest gust of wind hit them. The tarp wall ripped in two, pushing down all of the shelving, and lifted the tent into the sky. No one was hurt, but to this day they have yet to find the tent that went all Wizard of Oz on her.
The next while was spent with T pulling people from tree wreckage, moving people out of the rising river, and convincing people to ditch their things as the water started overtaking vehicles. They had also rescued an older lady that had a tree branch fall on the top of her golf cart. The roof had saved her life.
It was only a few moments later that T showed up, pounding on the RV door.
“What are you guys DOING?! The river is rising! You need to get out NOW!”
Did I mention that we were about 100 ft away from the river at this time? Somehow no one had come over to let us know we were about to be overtaken. I ran out the door to see the river creeping up to our canvas tent about 15 feet away. It was this moment when I learned about how I react in panic mode. The answer is – BADLY. My mind went blank. I couldn’t think. I just stood there like a statue as the water started creeping up closer. No one wants to be that person – but here I was – I learned something new about crisis Erica – SHE SUCKS.
But I was saved by T, who works in emergency services. He saw my panic and started barking orders at me to get me moving. “Get into the tent and grab everything you have that is worth anything!” This snapped me out of it and I sprung into action. I grabbed my waterproof baggies (yay for backpacking!) and threw in our phones, wallet, and anything else that was pressing and we created a chain of people, moving all of our items into A&T’s trailer.
There was a point that the river was rising too quickly though. The reservoir had opened up the gates above stream and hadn’t really given us a heads up. What was once a 100 cfs lazy stream had turned into a 4000 cfs raging river (same strength as the Colorado River), rising 1 ft a minute, and it crept up – closer and closer. At one point I rushed outside the tent to ankle deep water. Our tent and second home was slowly being swallowed by the river. Floating balls of fire ants exploded on Shaun’s legs and poison ivy rushed across our feet and legs while we frantically unhooked the tent from the stakes. We were able to move it to slightly higher ground for the moment.
At this time T hooked up A&T’s trailer and moved them to higher ground. M’s and S’s RVs were already up to the wheel wells in water when the tractors came in with tow straps as they sank deeper into the muddy ground. M’s RV came howling out of the quagmire and and was placed on the higher ground near A&T’s trailer. S and the tractor driver dove under the RV into the mud to hook it up and save it from the oncoming flash flood.
The tow strap disintegrated and the RV lurched forward. The RV was too heavy and sunk further into the mud. A second tractor with a chain came over as the water rose to their doorway. Mud sprayed everywhere as the 30,000 lbs beast came flying out of the mud. It was quickly placed at the crest of the highest hill.
It continued to try to get my camping items from the river and it is then that A grabbed me, hugged me, and told me we had to get to the emergency meeting point. I had to leave my stuff as it was increasingly dangerous to keep going back in. I was heartbroken. I was scared.
It was overnight that the temperature dropped into the 50s. Everyone left on the land had no extra clothing, no jackets, and no way to stay warm. The seriousness really came as we had to sign in our names – just in case that something happened to one of us. But we were stranded. We were at the highest hill on the property and the river just kept rising. And we were told by the local authorities that no one was coming to save us. They didn’t have the manpower to do so.
Nothing like a bunch of floating burners hoping for the best.
So we emptied out the ice truck to climb inside as our last resort to give us a couple more feet of water rising. People grabbed any blankets they could find and many people got in a bit of shut eye while we waited – and hoped, that the water wouldn’t rise any higher. The semi was it. Otherwise we were looking at wading through a quarter mile of Cottonmouth infested waters to the nearest property.
This was it.
We spent the night huddled together for warmth and emotional support. And even in the darkest hour – our emergency response team was on point. We didn’t lose anyone. At about 4am the water started receding a bit. An exhausted “yay” escaped our lips.
The morning came and the water receded enough for us to get off-property. Shaun and I found our truck in one piece – obviously spending the night in 3 feet of water – but we were lucky. We don’t even know how many cars were totaled that day. They picked the wrong parking spot.
We had to leave so much behind that day and we lost our tent. The tent that we had so many good times in. Our home. We couldn’t return back to property for 2 weeks and our canvas tent was now home to about a hundred frogs, holes, and a black mold.
So it took the wind out of my sails to say the least – and I’m still dealing with some of the PTSD that comes along with it. I shake like a chihuahua when I’m outside and a thunderstorm rolls through.
I can’t guarantee that I’ll be back like I used to, but I do ask for a bit of understanding. I’m still finding my footing – and when I do, you all will be one of the first to know.