Stick figures of Chloe, Andrew and Henderson with their camper parked in front of Blue Mountain beside the Susquehanna River. Playful Curiosity.

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FLOOD - September 9th 2011 - Tropical Storm Lee - Federal Disaster #4030

Susquehanna River cresting on 9/9/11

Every flood that reached our first floor in the last 125 years...

  • 33.27 ft - 06/24/1972
  • 32.50ft - It has to get this high to reach us when we're done....
  • 29.23 ft - 03/19/1936
  • 26.80 ft - 06/02/1889
  • 25.70 ft - 05/22/1894
  • 25.17 ft - 09/09/2011
  • 25.08 ft - 01/20/1996
  • 24.40 ft - 09/19/2004
  • 23.81 ft - 09/27/1975

When you look at the smaller flood data too, floods have been increasing in frequency.

*This is a journal of the first couple days.
**It's long and if it's not your thing scroll down to the boatload of pics later.

Wednesday September 7, 2011

23.6 ft is the magic number. 23.6 ft on the National Weather Serviceís (NOAA) gauge means I have water in my living space. Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Bath, Office, Laundry Room Ė everything but the bedroom on the second floor.

Wake up. 7:30am Ė early for me - the gauge prediction reads 22.6 ft with a forcasted crest of Friday midnight. Iím safe - close (1 foot) but safe. And I have two days.

Most of the time the NWS prediction is high. If we get less rain than predicted, if the storm blows off the predicted track, the crest is lower than predicted.

Chloe left for work before I was up. I went and taught my seniors Tai Chi class feeling pretty good.

Back from work. Gauge prediction is 24.2 ft. Damn. Still in with a chance if the prediction is high. Try to get normal day stuff done. Canít stop planning what gets moved, in what order and what matters most to us.

Gauge down to 22.6 ft again. Whew. A relieif but I'm still planning.

We had a bad one in March but it helped us get dialed into what happens at what water levels. That one got up to 20.1 ft. They were predicting 22 ish. We hadnít experienced anything over 18.5 feet so we werenít sure what would happen at the time.

When does the heat pump get damaged? The electronics are at the top. When does the old breaker box Ė now a patch panel Ė in the basement get hit and we need to shut off the power? When does the hvac duct work get hit?

Old breaker box turned patch panel. This is after the flood but it was fairly terrifying before too.

These were all things we didnít know in March so we moved stuff up into a Stage Two Move for that one.

Stage One Move Ė everything off the floor preparing for 1-2 inches inside.
Stage Two Move Ė important stuff upstairs, table, couches and such raised up 1ft.
Stage Three Move Ė everything upstairs or above kitchen counter height
*There are subtleties too boring to list that make the stages make more sense.

March taught us that the heat pump is toast at 20.5ft, the patch panel gets hit at 21.5 ft and the duct work is hosed at 22.5 ft. In other words we dodged the bullet on that one (it was 20.1 ft) and only had mud to clean out of the basement.

Gauge back up to 24.2ft. Geez whatís going on with Lee. I go outside and try to will the rising water (over 1.5 million gallons per second) to move faster. Failing in that endeavor. I start moving things. Starting with the tons of stuff we hide in our shelves. For instance, I have a Lambretta LI150 (old Italian Scooter) in boxes largely in the cabinets under the plant stand Ė itís huge Ė the plant stand, the scooter is normal size.

Chloe comes home. We discuss getting started or waiting to see if it goes down by morning. Itís Wednesday. Not supposed to crest until Friday. We have time. However, one of the other things weíve noticed is that it tends to crest before the predicted time.

Marchís unnecessary move is fresh in our minds. Next week is our vacation/anniversary week. We donít want to spend it moving our stuff up and down the stairs. We did a spring cleaning with Marchís exercise so we didn't have that "silver lining".

We eat. We think. We rally. We move stuff.

Too tired to lift, think or speak civilly. We sit down and watch what maybe the last movie on old faithful. Itís a 52Ē projection screen TV with an enormous cabinet. Itís old, itís outdated but it works. However, it will not fit up the staircase. In fairness, it is laregly sentimentality. Iíve been drooling over the picture quality on new TVs but wouldnít spend the money until old faithful carked it. Maybe it will be our lucky charm Ė the river wonít get in so we have to keep using it.

Old Faithful. Move underway - some of the lower stuff gone.

Gauge at 26.2 ft. Not looking good. Just the night before I had a dream that the gauge would go up to 26ft. Just came true.

We go to bed. Iím sick to my stomach. We bought this house in 2005. Right after the flood. River came up to 24.40ft for that one. I remember how much work went into that house afterwards. I was on the site the whole time. Even though we didnít own it the deal was I could select materials, contractors and make changes. I know exactly what it took to put that house together. Some of the work wouldnít need to be redone Ė like the wiring (wrong about that), upstairs remodel (new windows so not 100% right), new roof (wrong about that - a wind storm tore off 1/3 of the roof a week later). Much would.

Exhaustion overwhelms me.

Thursday September 8, 2011

7:00am. Chloe wakes me up with ďSorry. Gauge is saying 29ft. And itís cresting early.Ē Holy Moses. Who needs caffeine with a jolt like that.

7:15am. Text several friends. "Cresting TODAY. Need all help I can get before NOON.Ē

7:45am. Ross arrives. We hook up the camper and haul it up to the parking lot at the top of the hill. The lot the part of the street before they rerouted the street. Now itís largely used by trainspotters when they watch the trains going into the Enola yard. We tuck the camper in beside a truck for a little privacy and security.

Our temporary home. Neighbors ran electricity to us. Nice folks.

Ross runs me back to the house (less than a mile) and I grab the Vespa. My baby. It raining. Iím stressed. Iím driving too fast. I love that corner. I slow down anyway. No time to squeeze in an ER visit.

Ross shuttles me back. I donít even take off the helmet for the return shuttle. We run the Kymco People up to the lot.

Disassemble. Pack. Haul. The river is now at 18ft and running through my basement. I shut off the heat pump. The prediction still reads 29ft.

My Ė been around so long heís now family Ė brother, Doug shows up.

Hot on his heels. Mike and his wife Jane show up.

In no time flat we haul up all of the priority items.

All our worldly goods stuffed into our bedroom.

Riverís now at 20 ft - rising very quickly (for a mile wide river).

We go back and get all the ďcould have lived with losing but would rather not replaceĒ items and all the stuff we just didnít want to clean. We put all the cookware and kitchen cabinet stuff on the counters. At 29 feet our estimates were that we had a chance of missing the stuff on the counters. We hoped.

Stage 3 = Higher than counter tops. Stage 4 is too screwed to bother.

River now over 21 feet. I shut down the power.

We prowl the house. We put the sacrificial leather chair and couch in front of the stacked items so they wouldnít topple. The leather chair and couch were a matching set. The couch had no hope whatsoever of fitting up the staircase. We canít get a queen size boxspring up those stairs. The chair matched the couch. It probably would not have fit up the stairs but since it was a part of a set anyway we decided the space was better used saving other things.

The water is now in my yard and almost touching the carport pad. There is no doubt in my head that my first floor will be hit. There will be no last minute reprieve. Itís a done deal. A wave of calm comes over me. I relax. Iíve accepted what was never a choice.

Water coming to get us. There is usually a 10' drop to the water.
Not long now.

One last prowl through the house. Everything's secure.

My friends leave. I thank them to the point of embarrassing them and send them off with bags of food. No point in letting the foood spoil.

Chloe, Henderson, and I prowl the perimeter in silence. The sheer volume of water passing by us is mind boggling. We get in the car and head up the hill to the Airstream.

Setting up the airstream, we realized we forgot stuff. We may have kicked the proverbial rear moving stuff by we kind of blew it when it came to prepping the camper.

We roll back down to the house. Thereís pickup of truck with two grizzled and rough looking characters parked in front of my house looking around as if scouting. Probably after my mower.

I get out and give them my "do you better not have bad intent in my little fiefdom?Ē stare. I let Hendy out. 90 pounds and the scariest growl. I want a sign for my house that says ďHouse protected by gun, dog and martial artists. Trespassers will be found in the morning.Ē Maybe a t-shirt too.

Pickup truck boys pack up.

We get what we need and dink around a little to make sure theyíve gone. I canít have them taking the mower. I like my four year old John Deere 115. I didn't really know what to do with it. The decision was made for me because in our zeal we packed the key in an unfindable location.

TIP: Anything outside of the structure (even under the carport) or parked under the structure will not be covered by flood insurance. If I had moved the mower off the property, it would still not be covered by flood insurance and since it was off the property home owners would not have covered theft or damage. The only way to have the damage to the mower covered under insurance would have been to put it in a shed (built to flood plain regulations) or the house.

Collage of conk-age.

Sure the mower was going to be sacrificed and if two good ole boys would get to use it Ė itís probably would have been smarter to let them have it. But the truth was my life was about to be seriously conked over - I couldn't handle being taken advantage of too.

Prowling the perimeter. Look close - we're cloaked.

We go back to the camper Ė no sign of the pickup truck crew. We start to set up and get comfortable. Rap, rap, rap. Great. Itís starting already.

Disasters are always a circus. And you have to be nice because many of the people are youíre neighbors - youíll see them again - and they may well be going through the same nightmare you are. Patience. One of the three great virtues. Patience, Forgiveness and Compassion.

Rap, rap, rap. Itís Tammy the owner of the house closest to the lot. Weíve met her before on her walks. Sheís very pleasant and an energetic conversationalist.

She invites us to move the camper to the side of the lot closer to her house or into her driveway near her motorhome. Frankly, Iíve got enough going on that I donít want to be right outside someone windows. The spot I picked allowed us to hide a bit.

Tammy offers to run a powerline if we move. Hmmm. Tempting. Tammy tells us that the construction crews donít move the big trucks weíre hiding behind but do load stuff in and out occasionally. The camper is somewhat blocking access to the trucks and it will be noisy. All right. Iím convinced.

We move the camper. Tammy runs a powerline. The rain stops.

We talk with Tammy. I see the mailman turn down the street across from the lot. I grab my outgoing Netflix and wait.

Aha! I run over. He knows me and hands me my mail. TWO NEW NETFLIX. Iíve got power. Iíve got Netflix. Iím living large. This is like camping in a really ugly campground while 3 million gallons of water flows through and past your house every second. It amazing how a couple of well placed little things can perk or keep up your spirits.

Tammy goes. We finish setting up and decide to walk down to the house. Maybe it will help Hendy. Who doesnít get it, doesnít like it and really wants to go home.

To his credit heís being an angel. Two types of dogs under stress. One goes nuts and does whatever he wants. One looks for instructions and does exactly what itís instructed. I showed Hendy the territory lines of the parking lot. He never crossed them while we were up there.

We canít get to the house. Water is all the way across the road. We can see the house. Itís under. Itís official. First floor is wet. But hey. Iíve got Battlestar Gallactica and a damn nice Airstream to watch them in.

My brother, Calvin, comes and we sit around watching the folks come and go. Most are gawkers. Some are neighbors and helpers. Itís not to hard to tell the difference. Oneís muddy, tired and pissed off. The other is wearing a camera.

Pizza. Battlestar Galactica.


Hendy is so tired that I poke him and he doesnít stir. I put pizza crust under his nose and he doesnít stir. I worry somethingís wrong and nudge him. He gives me a completely unappreciative look and goes back to sleep.

Lights outside. I go out. People trying to get past the "Road Closed" barricade and gawk. I tell one guy itís closed. He goes anyway. I wait he comes back. Riverís across the road buddy. Nowhere to go. A motorcyclist shows up. Itís midnight. He stops and talks then goes down anyway. I go inside. How much can a motorcyclist steal anyway? Not inside for ten minutes when I see flashing lights. Look out and an East Pennsboro officer has pulled over a guy who drove around the barricades Ė apparently not noticing there was a cop behind him. Gawking in a mandatory evacuation zone. Seems a silly way to spend $300.

My first attempt to sleep. Canít do it. Toss and turn. Chloeís tossing too. You asleep? No. We discuss plans for rebuilding the house for an hour and finally go to sleep.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Up early. Chloe and Hendy still zonked out.

Thereís an East Pennsboro Safety Officer at the Road Closed barricades. Nice of them.

I mount up the scooter and ride down. Seems like the river has crested and is starting to recede but I still canít get all the way to my house.

River completely covered the road.

Go for a ride. The start of what would be a morning tradition the next couple of days.

Vespa by the house later in the afternoon.

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