We should always look for the good in everything.
Chloe, age 9
Sometimes the best advice comes from the least expected source. I discovered that last week during one of the most bizarre adventures I have ever experienced. What began as a highly-anticipated Nebraska road trip to visit family ended up being a Mother Nature freak show.
|a hotel across the street|
The drive across Nebraska was a bit shaky in the first place with heavy rains, torrential at times, ushering us into Kearney. It seemed to have all passed, though, when we checked into Hampton Inn Kearney. My sister Peg and niece Micki and her family soon joined us, and we enjoyed a fun evening watching the kids swim in the hotel pool and eating pizza and playing board games in the lobby. It started raining again, but we all just thought it was a typical summer storm. If only we could have seen the rains as the omens they were. Instead, we, and the entire city of Kearney, ignored the flood warning alert that blasted on our cell phones. We went on with our visit, drinking a little wine or tea and enjoying the silliness of the kids. Micki and Tyler decided they would drive home to Elm Creek, twenty miles away (they made it home safely with no sign of a flood). Peg stayed with us at the hotel. We watched a little news (no mention of anything weather related) and called it a night.
The storm returned with a vengeance during the night. The lightening and thunder were scary--I had trouble sleeping. I almost called the front desk to see if there were any warnings, but I figured a siren would go off. I had no idea how hard it was raining out there. Who would have guessed when the morning dawned with blue skies and sunshine.
With the sun shining brightly, Peg left for work the next morning at 7:00. Mom and I planned to have a leisurely morning before heading to Elm Creek for the day. We turned on the news and heard there had been some flooding in Kearney, particularly by the high school. I texted Peg to see if she encountered any on her way to work. She didn't. Micki also didn't see any signs of flooding in the Elm Creek area. So we took our time, enjoying coffee and breakfast and the newspaper. I looked out the window before we headed out, and to my complete shock and horror saw this.
And then five minutes later--
Girl, you ain't seen nothing yet--a few minutes later--
complete with a little sass to my mom (sorry!) and an s word
At this point I thought maybe I should ask about getting our room changed to a second floor, just in case. I asked the desk agent if that could happen. She politely said she would check later, but at that moment she had been instructed to have everyone move to the second floor hallway. I looked to the main entrance and understood why!
As we headed up to what would be our home for the next few hours, not one of us thought about evacuation. We all (about one hundred) thought we were riding the storm out on higher, drier grounds. We were all joking and trading names and backgrounds and just waiting for the all clear. Instead, we soon were informed that the police were on the way to begin the evacuation process. My heart sank as I'm sure did all those other hearts around me.
Hotel management arrived with water and clear, calm instructions. They told us exactly what would happen. Members from the police and fire departments, state patrol, City of Kearney, and the Red Cross would arrive and assist us to buses waiting as close as possible to the exit. There would be a small area of knee-high water before the bus, but crews would be there to assist. There were five or six other hotels that would go before us. And so the wait began.
At my end of the hallway, we formed a close little group as we chatted about our homes and families. Everyone was so helpful, making sure Mom had a chair and water. I was a little unnerved--I worried about Mom and stressed about my car. When we left the lobby, I could see that there was some water around it. I knew the water was still rising, and I had no idea how much had accumulated by that time. Margie, a new friend, was worried about her car as well and offered to go to a window and take a picture of the parking lot. This is what we saw--
I couldn't really tell if the water was up to the doors. I felt a little better knowing at least it wasn't completely covered. A little.
In addition to Margie and her husband Dan, we bonded with Ann who was supposed to catch a flight to Denver at 4, Bill and Deb from Wyoming, Travis and Jill from Wisconsin. And Chloe. Sweet, beautiful Chloe. We all fell in love with nine-year-old Chloe from Denver. She entertained us with jokes and stories and dreams and wishes. She gravitated from not a care in the world to being almost in tears, worried that she would get separated from her parents. We did our best to assure her that would never happen. Just when I was close to tears myself, Chloe proclaimed that "we all should find the good in everything." Her words quickly became my mantra for the rest of the trip. I wanted to take her with me. We all need a Chloe in our lives! (I'm so sad I didn't get a picture of her--my mind was in survival mode, not selfie mode.)
I began to stress a bit about how I would get down to the ground level. I can't do two stairs let alone a flight of stairs. I didn't once think I would be left on my own, but nevertheless, not knowing was worrying me. At about that time, things began to happen fast. A police officer appeared and had everyone line up as he explained the evacuation process. He came over to me and calmly and kindly walked me through the plan to help me and two others in wheelchairs. They would carry me down to either an airboat or a loader (oh dear Lord!) and someone would be with me all the way. I did tear up then--the reality hit me. I grabbed Mom's hand and said we couldn't be separated (there's a little bit of Chloe in me!). We weren't.
It was go time. After those who didn't need assistance were down, firemen came for Mom and me. Before I even had time to think, one had swooped me up, and we were headed down. Mom was right behind, escorted by another fireman.
My relief at reaching ground level was quickly replaced with horror. We were in about two feet of gross water. We had to make it about fifteen feet to the loader (I so wanted the airboat!) I had no idea what a loader was. Although not ours, the picture below is almost identical to our chariot.
Two firemen assisted Mom, holding each of her arms, as they helped her in. My hero firemen carried me all the way and rode with us as we headed three or four blocks for dry land.
Thanking our hero firemen profusely, we boarded buses bound for the Salvation Army. Waiting for us, along with hundreds of others, was Peg. I have never been so happy to see her!
What seemed like an eternity in reality was just a few unbelievable hours. It all felt like a dream. I kept asking "Did this really just happen?" We headed for Micki's in Elm Creek at about 1:00--a mere 3.5 hours after it all began.
Determined not to let Mother Nature ruin this trip, we did what what we would have done had there been nothing but blue skies the entire time. I played with Quinn and her dolls and kitten, played Sequence with Ethan and Drake (and lost), lounged on the patio, watched the kids jump on the tramp, made s'mores, watched the kids chase fireflies--exactly what we came for.
At one point Tyler asked me, "How much better would you sleep tonight if you knew your car was okay?" Because of course that was in the back of my mind the whole time. I just didn't know. I saw it briefly out of the corner of my eye when we got on the loader--water was definitely up to the door. Following updates on Twitter and the local news, we learned that the water was still rising throughout the day. I had no way of knowing what was going on with my car.
The next day brought more sunshine and blue skies. I felt confident that the water surely receded during the night, and we would be able to get to my car and assess the damage. I was not confident that my car was okay, however. The news footage that morning showed many cars in the surrounding lots almost completely submerged.
Micki and Tyler offered to drive to Kearney and check out the scene. A half hour later I got a text from Micki with this:
|For perspective, Tyler is 6' 3"|
And dear Lord, this
They couldn't get to my car. My heart plunged. It just didn't look good. How would we get home--we had already heard there were no rental cars available in the area. Would my insurance cover flood damage? Where do I even start?? Such silly worries. I heard sweet Chloe's words. Look for the good. Sheesh--I was surrounded by family. I'm retired and didn't have to get back to work. We were safe. Why worry??
I thought Micki and Tyler would be heading back to Elm Creek. Instead I got a text from Micki. Tyler's friend had a truck and gave them a ride through the high water to the Hampton Inn parking lot.
I waited, holding my breath, for the follow up. And . . .
My car! On dry land! And it started right up, water pouring out of the tailpipes. I felt relief permeate my entire being--I could finally breathe. The floors were soaked but there didn't seem to be any water on the seats. Micki said it smelled really bad, but I could live with that. They, of course, couldn't get it out of the flooded area, but at least we now knew what we were dealing with.
I had a much more relaxed day with the kids knowing that my car was not a total wreck. I watched them swim and do flips off the board at Elm Creek's pool, colored and did word searches, and even took a nap. My brother Mark came through and we visited with him. I thought surely the water would recede by that evening, and we could be on our way the next day.
But with no updates all day about the water levels or street openings, we were in limbo. Mark was heading back home to Lincoln in the evening and decided to try to get to the hotel on his way. Peg went with him in case she needed to drive my car back. No such luck--the water had not receded and the streets were still impassable for normal traffic.
But wait--ten minutes later I got a FaceTime call from Mark. They were by my car! City workers were on hand to take people into the hotel area (using that wonderful loader!) Management was available at the hotels to let guests in to retrieve left behind belongings. While Mark checked out my car, Peg went into the Hampton Inn and got the rest of our stuff. That was one less thing to worry about. Mark drove the car around the dry parking lot and told me it sputtered a bit but otherwise ran great. He also mentioned the smell. Yuck.
|Mark on the loader|
|Peg ready for a ride|
They left the car, with windows cracked to air it out, and we all felt certain that we would be able to drive it out the next day. Surely the water would recede by the morning . . .
Day three brought the news that the hotel streets were still flooded and closed. I just couldn't believe it. How could there be so much water when it had been nothing but sunshine for three days? It turned out that the area by the interstate where the hotels are is lower than most of Kearney and provided a perfect path for the overflowing Turkey Creek to drain. Just dandy.
A thought occurred to me that morning. While Mark and I were FaceTiming the night before, I noticed a tow truck preparing to tow the car next to mine. Why don't I have my car towed out to the dry streets? I have AAA with coverage for towing, and it looked like a big tow truck could get in and out of the area. I called them to see if it was possible. And it was--they would be there in 30 minutes! Why hadn't I thought of that before?? Micki had to quickly get to Kearney with the keys, and then we were in business. We had them tow it all the way to Elm Creek since that was covered in my plan.
This sight made me cry. Happy cry--
After a quick stop at Kelly's Sales and Service in Elm Creek for a checkup (Kelly gave us a big thumb's up, seeing no signs of water in the oil, air filter, or engine), we headed home, smelly car and all. A thorough detail the next day removed any sign that it had been in a flood.
Kearney Fire Department
Kearney Police Department
The City of Kearney
Nebraska State Patrol
Nebraska Red Cross
Kearney Salvation Army
The Hampton Inn Kearney Staff
Kelly's Sales and Service
With cool heads and warm hearts, these heroes selflessly ensured that my mom and me, and the 1000+ other evacuees, were safely reunited with our loved ones.
And for our fellow guests at The Hampton Inn Kearney. For two hours or so, these complete strangers put forth their most compassionate and trusting hearts and became friends.
For my family
Peg, for braving the flood, waiting forever at the Salvation Army, going to Target to get us essentials, taking time off work to help, and just being you.
Micki and Tyler, for discovering my car on dry land, putting up with us for longer than planned, feeding us, supporting us, and for Ethan, Drake, and Quinn whose love and laughter got us through.
Mark, for coming through Elm Creek and trudging through flood waters to check everything out
Joy, Kyle, Jake, Rog, and Kerri for keeping it positive through texts and FaceTimes
The Schultz/Alldredge crew for checking in, even from Macedonia, halfway around the world, where Max wanted to see the flood
And for Chloe. Your little nine-year-old heart and wise words touched everyone in our little bonded community. You will never know the lasting effect you will have on so many adults, but I know I will never forget you. Yes, Chloe, I will look for the good in everything, even the Kearney Flood of 2019.