(Editor’s note: The flooding that struck the Mid-South area in April and May caused devastation for many local families. While the waters have receded, the impact of the disaster continues to be a part of many lives. Paul Smothers has written a 3-part series which shares the experience of one such family, in hopes that people will continue to support United Way’s work with long-term recovery efforts. This is part 2 of the series – you can read part one here.)
Last April, Debbie Gabbard was driving her father’s truck through 3 foot high flood waters that reached halfway up the side of the truck door. With prayer and strong will, she made it through by not braking and gunning the truck.
“’Keep going’ I said to myself,” Debbie recalls. “Don’t put your feet on the brakes. Just keep going.”
“We were all crying,” Debbie said. “My brother was loading our stuff to get it out before the floodwaters rose. I was at a safe place, but I knew my brother and husband were still down there. I knew the situation had become very dangerous. Forty-five minutes later, here they come. There were our two trucks coming up the road, one with a smoking engine. The rain did not let up. I said a prayer….’please Lord, stop the rain!’”
After taking as much furniture and other household items as possible to their rented storage unit, Debbie’s husband Steve decided that they had to go back to their house. All of the family’s electronics and plug-in items had been placed on makeshift shelves, over 6 feet up from the floor. The water from the rainstorm was already above the grill of Debbie’s brother’s truck!
“Probably, between 45 minutes and an hour, the waters seemed to rise about 3 feet,” Debbie said. “When we left out the first time, you could see the whole complete top of the fire hydrant in front of our house. When we returned the second time, the fire hydrant was gone. It had been taken down with the flood.”
It was still raining off and on. After dropping their two cats and three dogs off at a shelter, they went back to their home in a boat owned by a family friend. The destruction to her home of 30 years left Debbie with emotional feelings she cannot explain even today.
“It was the most unbelievable thing I have ever been through,” she said. “We paddled inside of the gates to our home. It was the eeriest thing I have ever felt. You’re rowing a boat. The waters are still rising. You can barely see the top of a chain link fence.”
The Gabbards paddled up to their trailer. Getting in the front door was an ordeal, and once inside she saw damage “beyond belief,” including destroyed closets and counter tops, and an upside down refrigerator. It was “like a bomb had gone off in the kitchen.” Appliances had floated and resettled against each other, jammed into cabinets and doors. The washer and dryer were in the middle of the floor.
The Bedrooms were destroyed and items were strewn everywhere. The water had so much force to it that it tore some neighboring homes completely apart. They tried to take what few items they could reach, all the while being cautious of contaminated waters and the possibility of snakes.
Just when it seemed things could not get any worse, Debbie and Steve returned to find the storage units they had rented had fallen victim to the flood waters as well.
“I said to myself – oh boy, here we go again,” Debbie said.
The family ended up losing all of their furniture and other items in the storage unit to water damage.
(To be continued in part 3 tomorrow) Updated: read part 3 here.