The first day of the flood, the phone relay began. Our cell phone and internet service were out, but our land line still worked for local calls, so I phoned my daughter to call my sister with a message to call me for a list of people she should phone to cancel my book reading that night.
Later, my sister told me she’d reassured one worried friend that we were okay. We didn’t have gas, internet, or cell phone, but our electricity, water, and home phone were still working. We had a wood stove and lots of wood for heating, a propane stove in our community room for cooking, stored water if needed, and lots of fresh vegetables. “Yes, they are resourceful,” our friend agreed.
Resourceful. As in, “full of resources.” But even more, “resourceful” means thinking about alternative ways to do the things you normally do. In a disaster, the systems you depend on every day are disrupted so you have to figure out other ways to meet your needs.
We were lucky. The ditches held behind our house and the river didn’t rise in the front, so other than some water in our basement, we were dry. We were safe from flooding that first morning, but we couldn’t drive out because floodwaters were rushing across our driveway from the ditches breaching further west of our farm. Still, if we needed to evacuate, we could walk east along the old highway to where officials had set up a roadblock, so our immediate need for safety was met. With gas, water, phone, electricity, and plenty of food, we had no reason to leave as yet.
Our next need was for information. Our oldest daughter called with news that our little town was engulfed in water. A dam burst above Lyons, sending floodwaters down the North and South St Vrain rivers. It was good to know what had happened to cause this emergency, but to find out what was happening right here on the ground, we knocked on our neighbors’ doors. How were they doing? What did they need? Who had services? Who didn’t? That way, we could share resources—pumps, phones, freezer space for homegrown produce, or coop room for soggy chickens.
And then the information circle widened. What was happening in town? Which roads were open and which were closed? Where were the evacuation centers? How could people get prescriptions filled? Pet food? Gas for their cars? Who was leaving and who was determined to stay?
On the second day as the rain continued, we learned more about the extent of damages in town. Where the raging North and South St. Vrain rivers had converged at the west end of town, new channels formed as water rushed through homes, knocked out bridges, and cut off neighborhoods. Information trickled in about how Stonebridge members were faring. We learned that part of the highway up the canyon had disappeared, stranding people in mountain communities. John helped friends move their belongings temporarily to our barn. Army trucks went back and forth in front of our house as townspeople began evacuating to the mega-church down the highway. The local coffee shop hosted a party with all the food they could cook from their failing refrigerators.
On the third day, we went into town to tear out our friends’ soggy carpet so the subfloor could dry. Remarkably, some areas of town were untouched, while others were buried under river silt and debris. Most people made plans to leave because, without water, sewer, and electricity, staying in town would be difficult. Soon, those who left wouldn’t be able to return to their homes for what could be a very long time.
Friends arrived to stay in our granary and we joined our fresh vegetables with food from their emptied refrigerators for a communal meal. As we ate, we heard helicopters crisscrossing overhead to airlift people in mountain areas to safety. Mountain people are more resourceful than most, with their own generators, water purifiers, and stockpiled necessities for long winters, but without roads, evacuation became urgent for many.
On the fourth day, more rain and clouds hampered the rescue efforts and the stream of trucks in front of the farm slowed, so the day seemed calmer. We got a welcome phone call from a close friend in the mountains saying he was safe and had everything he needed. Ever resourceful, he’d constructed a sophisticated system of pipes and containers to catch rainwater off slick rock that he could boil for himself and his many animals. He’d wanted to call for days but his phone, like most peoples’, needed electricity to operate. Then he’d remembered an old phone in the attic that charged from the phone line. Success! We were relieved to hear from him, although we’d been confident that if anyone could survive alone in the mountains, he could.
Another self-sufficient mountain friend finally got through to us on day five. He was fine, as we’d expected. The folks on his road were pulling together and he was feeding all his neighbors with the eggs he usually sold in town.
Resourceful. John and I have learned a few things about our own resourcefulness during this disaster. We learned that we can lose services in a disaster, even if we have them initially, so thinking ahead is important. We had stored water, but the outside tank we’d counted on was compromised by rain and soil runoff during the storm, leaving us with less than needed if our district water should fail. From now on, we’ll save more in jugs and store it on higher ground than our leaking basement.
Another lesson was designating a central spot for backpacks to keep keys, wallets, flashlights, change of clothes, medications, extra eyeglasses, and other essential items handy in case we had to leave in a hurry. If the ditches broke in the night, we could grab our bags and walk out. Even if the electricity went off, we’d know where to find things in the dark.
For those who have internet services, posting updates on websites or social media works wonderfully, but for those of us without internet service, the next best thing was changing the message on our answering machine with each day’s date so that people whose calls we missed would still get some information about our situation (thanks, Mary, for that tip).
Water, power, heat, and food are essential resources to cover. We can store some things ahead of time or find alternate ways to generate them.
But our most important resource is each other. A knock on the door or a phone call or email lets us know that someone cares. Pooling necessities and exchanging skills allows more needs to be met. Sharing information and problem-solving communally increases everyone’s chance of survival. Everyone can contribute something to a critical situation. Each person can offer their own form of physical or emotional comfort, be it an air lift, a nourishing meal, or a hug to get through the day.
I’m not trying to romanticize this catastrophe or our response to it. What’s happened to our community is horrible, but moments of lightness keep us going. As we rebuild our roads, buildings, and infrastructure, we can draw on the new relationships of the cooperative community we’ve fostered during this emergency and know that we are most resource full when we work together.