In April of 2014 our neighborhood in Pensacola, FL was devastated when a freak flood destroyed all that we owned.
I was coming home from a night class I was taking at Pensacola State College and it was raining very hard. The lightning was flashing so fast that I could not see the road. The weather forecast was for rain that evening but but it was suppose to stop by 8:00. I was driving my husband's truck and was washed off the road just before my exit and ended up in a large grassy spot. I could not go forward or reverse. Within a few minutes my feet were wet. I phoned my husband to tell him what was happening. He said to call 911. Before I could even dial the number for 911 I was sitting in waist deep water. Thankfully at that moment a fire engine stopped and retrieved me from the cold rising water. I was taken to a service station right off the exit. There I was told that no one was getting in or out of my neighborhood which was only a few miles away. All I wanted to do was go home and be with my husband. They closed the interstate shortly after I arrived and I was offered a warm place to sleep in a car and a change of clothes by a nice couple from NOLA that was stranded there also. There were over a hundred cars parked in the parking lot when the sun came up. I stayed in touch with friends and my husband through facebook and texting. I panicked when my husband told me that water was coming into our beautiful home. Other neighbors were posting the same thing. All I could think about is that we did not have flood insurance because we are not in a flood zone. My husband told me he knew we were in trouble when our dogs were swimming in the living room and the beds started floating. He spent the night on top of the kitchen cabinets with three dogs and an African Grey parrot. About 3am a rescue boat was picking up neighbors and taking them to a shelter. I can only envision a large boat going down the streets of our neighborhood. I heard later that the boats belonged to the neighbors on another street and they went to their driveway started them up and off to the rescue. They said it was difficult to maneuver through the fast currents that were estimated to be about 45 mph. They had to dodge the mailboxes and other debris flying by. They hit cars that were underwater and not seen. Some of the neighbors had water so high they they had to escape by busting a hole in their roofs.
I posted on facebook the next morning that I needed a ride to the shelter where they took my husband. One of our pastors and his wife picked me up and took me there. The first thing I asked my husband was "what was damaged in my studio?". I had a garage studio with thousands of dollars worth of tools and a brand new kiln. He just shook his head. My heart just sank and tears came to my eyes. My neighbor across the street asked me if I had ever been to a shelter before and I replied "No and it wasn't on my bucket list". We were there most of the day trying to get transportation, a place to stay and care for our dogs. We were blessed by many friends with those needs. It was hard to believe that we were homeless. Then the worst part came.
My husband took me home so we could see the damage.
The water line at the back door
A hole where a fish pond used to be
My car that was parked in the driveway
The list is to massive to post.
First step in flood recovery.
The first thing you have to do is get everything out and get the house dried out.
This is the hardest part because we had to throw away all that we have owned for the last 62 years. Kids pictures, Grandmothers keepsakes, Mothers memories, antiques. The list goes on and on. My heart was so torn and at the same time we were in shock. We stayed in shock for the most part through all of this but we were so driven to get this done and behind us. I found out what an amazing husband I have during this time. He is my rock and never once did he complain or ask why. He is strong and loving and I am one blessed wife.
Our neighbors trying to save pictures and home movies
The looters showed up that day. It is unbelievable that people would come to your home and go through all of your life and take what they wanted. The fact is that besides the water damage and mold the sewers failed and everything was sitting in sewer water but they took it anyway.
Our neighborhood was filled with so much action that I felt like we were at a circus with all that was going on. They had to re-route the traffic to one way coming in and going out. Between the looters, rubber neckers and volunteers I felt like I was on sensor overload. On top of that I manage a mini storage and people were calling me to rent them a storage unit. Everyone was just trying to save what they had left and find a place to put it.
I just can not put into words all the emotions they were felt during this time in our lives. At first it seemed like it was all a bad dream but there were so many more blessings we experienced in the next year.
We had so many of our friends and Church Family show up to help us through the stripping out process. They brought food, supplies labor and lots of moral support. The ladies of the Church took our clothes home with them and washed them. We had commercial dryers donated along with generators to dry out our home. This took about a week and would have cost us quite a bit of change for those. People were donating not only their time but money also. It cost us $100.00 a day to run those generators. There were complete strangers making sure everyone had a place to stay offering their spare bedrooms. A family that was not affected by the flood organized a group that got donations from local businesses of food, water, fans and cleaning supplies that they delivered to the neighborhood several times a day for months. If anyone needed anything they got a donation for it and you got it. There were Churches that sent groups out with home baked cookies and sandwiches daily. The Church of Ladder Day Saints gave out 5 gallon buckets filled with cleaning supplies. The Baptist Church has a group that helps out with disasters supplying labor, supplies, etc and going around checking homes for moisture and spraying for mold. A local Church set up a huge fish fry with chicken and just about anything you can imagine for us. It was awesome and we were all so tired. We had friends offer donations of furniture and household goods when we moved back home. Through the weeks our Church sent us a meal to share at the end of each day. This was such a huge blessing. One Church member owns a flooring company and blessed us with a huge discount on flooring and counter tops. One of our biggest blessings was our Brother in Law, Jack, coming down here from NC to help. He is a Marine with many skills. He stayed with us 6 months helping with the rebuild. We could not have gotten back into our home after six months if it wasn't for him. The list goes on and on.
The Next Step: Working with the government and rebuilding.
It was a PITA to go through all the paper work for the SBA and fortunately we were declared a National State of Disaster so we got FEMA money too. The rest came out of savings. We had to replace all the appliances, the Heating and Air Conditioning system, electrical, doors, windows, bathroom fixtures, floor, walls, kitchen cabinets, well everything in our house. Even the hot tub was turned upside down from the waters and the shed was gone. The cost of building supplies seemed to rise as demand rose. Home Depot did give a discount to flood victims on appliances and fortunately my husband served as a Marine so we got a military discount at Lowes. All of a sudden you could not find a dry wall contractor, electrician, or anything else without being put on a waiting list. We all just wanted to get back home. We worked on our home from sunrise to dark because we still did not have electricity. We did this every day for 6 months only to break to go to work and Church. Then we finally moved back into our home. We still did not have a kitchen, doors and most everything else but we did have air conditioning, electricity and new floors. I really missed my dogs. A good friend kept them for us and we visited them a couple of times but I longed to be with them again. We had been sleeping on an air mattress all this time at a friends rental home that was still being worked on and had nothing in it but a card table. We were just so thankful to have it and too tired to care about anything at all. The first thing we bought was a BED. We worked around getting everything else done ourselves. We have never been so exhausted in all of our lives.
I furnished our 2500 SF house with yard sale, consignment shops, Craigslist and donations but it still wasn't inexpensive. I have to admit I had a hard time loosing my antiques and the house has a completely different look to it now.
Our neighbor drying his flag on the shrubbery
New studs and drywall going up
Bathroom cabinet I found on Craigslist
The kitchen is the most expensive thing to replace. We got quotes for just the cabinets and it was anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 dollars. This is just one wall of our kitchen. The other wall is twice as large. We went with the el-cheapo unfinished bottom cabinets only. I stripped the top cabinets. Stained the bottom cabinets driftwood and used several color waxes on it to achieve the look I wanted. They had to be sanded first and in between each coat of stain (2-3 coats) and wax color (4-5 coats). The top cabinets could not be stained so I had to sand and paint them a base color and go back and add the different colors to match the bottom ones. Then the hardware was added. There still is a section on the back that needs sanding and who knows when that will happen. This process took me about a month to do working on it everyday at lunch and when I got home in the evening.
Tom and Jack installing kitchen cabinets
The first room completed was the bedroom
Finally a real BED!
Living room finished
Front sitting area
My TV/ reading room. I don't like to watch sports.
Even Meshack had to get a new stand.
I decided to go with a casual beach theme. I combined my paintings with my husbands photography and it blended very well. Oyster shells came from a local restaurant on Pensacola Beach. It took me 2 weeks to get the stink off them.
The last room we did was the garage where my studio is. Tom got the dry wall put up and I did the happy Snoopy dance all day. It was soon followed by work areas that he thoughtfully thought out. A friend of mine gave me a jewelers bench and I tried to get the rust off of my tools. Some made it some did not. An electrician friend fixed my kiln and another friend told me about some friends of hers that had a jewelry studio that they were selling. I had planned to just buy a few pieces but they wanted it all gone and I am so glad I decided to take it. A pick up truck and trailer full of wonderful tools, equipment, beads, sheet metal and more. It did not take me long to get set back up and start creating again. My wonderful husband also took one of the spare bedrooms and fixed it up for an inside area so I can work in the AC doing my enameling and metal clay work. He built spaces for my beads, paints and other craft items. I even have an area for my photography. He then took another spare bedroom and made it a show room for my beautiful jewelry. I have never know a better man than my husband.
Most of the work is done but there is still some things that we will probably never get to. I feel like we lost a whole year of our lives. We went without cable for that year. It is amazing how much you don't miss it. My husbands truck and my car were both paid off so now we have car payments. We have a loan from the SBA and this life event has put us back financially ten years but we never realized how blessed we are. We are so much closer to our neighbors. They are our family. God gave us the strength and courage to get through it every day we woke up. You never know what tomorrow brings. We have heard that a million times. You just have to believe that God is in control and all will be alright. Sometimes I don't believe it ever happened but I know it did because we are changed somehow.
I also hope I never have to sleep on an air mattress the rest of my life.