But this year...this year it seems like there has been nothing but one death, drama or debacle after another.
I don't have to list them. If you've been reading, you know.
This week, it was a flood. Yes, a flood.
After years of being on water rations and watching every living thing shrivel and die from lack of water, we had a flood. It's really almost inconceivable. But for 24 hours straight, we watched the rain come down in an a near constant downpour and wondered how much more the ground, already saturated from a week's worth of steady rain, could absorb. How much more the previously ailing lakes and rivers could cold.
When I took Pubescent One to school, there was a lot of standing water, but nothing that alarmed me. In just a few hours, things changed drastically. By the time I took Diminutive One to school, there were large sections of road underwater everywhere. I had serious doubts about being able to make it home.
As I approached a puddle that spanned the entire width of one road, I wondered if I should try and cross it. They say you can be swept away by as little as six inches of water. But traffic was backing up behind me and I was anxious to get out of the weather, so I slowed down and began to drive through it.
About halfway through, I lost the road. I felt my van begin to float and also felt the panic rising in my throat. I was going off the road, I was being swept away!! Dear God...this is the kind of stuff you see on the news and think, "That poor stupid soul." I made a conscious effort to push down my fear and panic. I eased off the gas, let my van come to a stop, and then slowly depressed the accelerator again. I found purchase and drove out of the quickly deepening puddle.
I don't mind telling you, I was shaking like a leaf by the time I got to the other side.
Then it occurred to me that the puddle would be completely impassible in just a matter of minutes. How were the kids going to get home? A bus is big and heavy, but it can still be swept away. I regretted having taken my kids to school. I wanted them home with me...NOW. I realized however, that it was foolish to try and retrieve them now since I could very well kill myself in the process. The school was probably the safest place for them to be anyway. Its made of concrete block and sits on high ground. There are no bodies of water nearby. If they couldn't get home, at least they would be safe.
I spent the morning listening to the radio and eyeing the rising water in my yard. Where the water came from, I had no idea, but suddenly a white water river had sprung up on the hill, washing away pieces of the earth, and sweeping all manner of debris into the yard. Our house is built on a slab, low to the ground, in a natural depression. It didn't take long for the water to begin pooling on the patio. By mid morning, it was level with the threshold to the back door. I began moving keepsakes to higher ground, thanking my lucky stars that we had a two story home. We could camp out upstairs if we needed to. We'd be safe.
But all the same, I was mentally cataloguing all the things in the house that could serve as a makeshift raft...just in case. A king sized headboard? A crib mattress encased in water proof plastic? A platoon of plastic bins lashed together? I wondered if there was an acessible point of egress in the attic. I wondered if the fire safe box was water proof as well. All these things I worried about, to keep from worrying about my kids.
At noon it was announced that the Middle School would dismiss at 1:15. But they didn't say if busses were running or how the kids would get home. I knew if I tried to drive to the school it would be disastrous. I had indicated on the disaster evacuation form that they should come home by bus in case of emergency, but what if the busses couldn't get them home? I called the school only to get a busy signal...of course. Every other parent was wondering the same thing and calling to find out how, in the world, our kids were going to make it home safely.
I finally got a harried secretary who assured me that the busses were running and knew every alternative route to get the kids home.
"But most of those roads are underwater, even the backroads. Maybe it would be safer just to keep them at school?" I argued.
"Welll....maybe" she replied hesitantly, "except that the roof of the media center has collapsed. We're not sure about structural integrity."
I thanked her and hung up.
I drove the short distance to the bus stop and waited in the pouring rain with five or six other cars. We waited nearly an hour, during which time, the panic that had threatened to overtake me all morning was almost impossible to ignore in the solitude of of the van, with only the shush shush shush of the wipers and the muted roar of the rain to keep me company.
Being on the high end of the neighborhood, I feared for what my neighbors might be experiencing. A creek runs through much of our subdivision, and even a modest creek can become a raging river with this much rainfall. The next day I would find out that much of it was already underwater as I sat there waiting for the bus.
Every awful scenario possible ran through my head, fueled by the sight of water rising to obscure more and more of my tires as I waited. The bus could be swept away, overturned, stranded in raging flood water with the kids all clinging to the slippery metal hull. I could envision them being wrenched free, one by one, to hurtle downstream like human driftwood.
I had to do something to stop myself from going into a full blown panic attack. I seized my cell phone and frantically dialed my parents' number, hoping against hope that I would get a signal. I did.
"EYALOW" said my Dad, 900 miles away.
At the sound of his voice, familiar and safe, one that had both scolded and soothed my entire life, tears flooded my eyes and the words left me in a torrent.
"DAD!...Dad...I'm sitting here in a flood and it's pouring and all the roads are underwater and I'm worried about the busses getting through and the house is going to flood too and I'm panicking and I can't do anything except sit here and wait and I know you can't do anything about it and I don't want you to panic too...but could you just talk to me for a few minutes until the bus gets here and I know Diminutive One is safe?"
My Dad didn't miss a beat.
"Well...those busses are so big and heavy it would take a lot of force to sweep one of 'em away. And those drivers know what to do....
For twenty minutes my Dad talked to me of banal things, trying to keep my mind off the crisis at hand. And though, sadly, his words no longer have the power to chase all my fears away as they once did, they did help calm them significantly.
Suddenly, the headlights of the bus appeared at the crest of the hill, as it came lumbering through the rain with sails of water fluttering out behind it.
"Oh God, they're here, they're here...they made it...I love you Dad...bye."
I hung up the phone and watched as the children streamed from the bus, running for the shelter of cars and vans. They laughed, these kids, thinking it all a very grand adventure. Diminutive One bounced into the van with a flurry of water and words.
"MOM! Guess what! We had to turn around THREE TIMES! And the last time, the bus driver said this was his last resort. And then we saw it was flooded too, but he went through it anyway. And one kid almost crapped his pants he was so scared! But I remembered what you told me this morning about the bus being big and heavy, so I wasn't scared. And you wouldn't believe it Mom...we saw some neighborhoods where people were in boats! I can't believe this....hey...why are you looking at me like that?"
"I'm just....really glad to see you!" I said cheerily.
And then I started to bawl.
Until then, it had all been a great lark, something to tell stories about. But Mom crying means serious business and that subdued him quite a bit.
"Geez, don't cry Mom. I'm okay. You told me yourself everything would be fine, and.... HOLY CRAP!!!"
By that time we had pulled into the driveway, and he saw the water moving swiftly through the yard. Eyeing the torrent he hurried into the house and then peered out that back window.
"I guess it's a good thing we have a two story house. Maybe we should look for something we could float on." he said.
He was beginning to realize the gravity of the situation. Though he had been out in it only moments before, it took my tears, and seeing his own home threatened to drive the point home.
This was serious.
We spent the rest of the afternoon huddled together assuring one another that everything would be fine. At 3:30, we made another bus run to get Pubescent One, who was, understandably rattled. Everything had been fine when he went to school, but when he emerged, the landscape had changed drastically.
"Jesus Christ" was all he said as he climbed into the van, his face pinched and pale.
At home we anxiously waited for the last member of our family to make it home. Husband had been out on interviews all afternoon, though I had begged him not to go. We cheered when the rain stopped, and again when Husband's car turned into the driveway. By that time the water in the yard had slowed from a torrent to a trickle, and the standing water on the patio had receded enough that I no longer worried about water getting into the house.
I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling that my control over things had been restored. In my heart, I knew that to be a wholly fallacious belief, but I didn't let myself examine it too closely. My family was home and we were safe and dry. Thousands of others were not so fortunate..
Some people lost everything...including their lives. Some people are still stranded by washed out roads. Some people are shovelling mud and sewage out of their homes. Some people are being told that their home owner's insurance won't cover the losses. Some people don't know how they're going to recover.
I will tell you....there are very few times in my life that I have been that frightened.
But we were lucky. So very lucky.
Here are some photos and video. As bad as they are, I don't think they really convey the magnitude of this disaster.
There are tons of pictures on the net of other areas around metro Atlanta. You can go to WSBTV to see photos, video and even arial views of the flooding.
More rain is expected and estimates vary from 1/3 of an inch to 4-5 inches. Whatever you do...pray, meditate, cross fingers...please do so with that first number in mind. I don't know how we would fare if we had to deal with any more than that.