Reflections on relating to the major flood the past spring in Wimberley, Texas – Editor
By Suzanne Cordrey
I spun around and blinked the rain out of my eyes. It was pitch black and 1:30 in the morning. The rain was warm and soaked my jacket but my mind was far away from my physical discomfort. The roar of the Blanco River was deafening and it felt so near to my house but I couldn’t see it. Neighbors were heading out in their cars, passing me by, leaving me there alone in the lane. I knew something dreadful was happening.
It rained for over two weeks here in the hill country of Texas, off and on, with massive, drenching bouts of rain. The rivers were all running full. But on Saturday, May 30, it poured all day. I woke up feeling so sad, and I paced around the house looking at things, wondering what would break my heart to live without. Funny how small things grow into desperately large emotional attachments at times like this. I pulled out a duffel and stuffed my favorite clothes and jewelry inside, half absentmindedly, but spurred on by a nagging voice in the back of my head. Then came out the cat carriers and my bag with passport and money, etc. Each trek out to the car left me soaked. And each time, I looked up and down the street to see what my neighbors were doing. No signs of movement. OK. Hunker down. But that river got louder and louder. Like a freight train roaring past. It is about 100 yards from my house, between trees and another home. I did get so restless that around midnight I walked around the corner with my flashlight. The water was up to the street which meant that the houses against the river were under water. omg. That’s when cars started up and drove off. Now many of these people have lived here for years, it is an old neighborhood and they were pretty river savvy. But what happened next was totally unexpected.
Upriver about 30 miles is the town of Blanco. They received eleven inches of rain in one hour and with the already saturated ground, the water slid rapidly into the river channel and charged full speed ahead toward Wimberley. But we didn’t know that. No one did in the moment. Which is what makes a FLASH FLOOD so terrifying. In an instant, a wall of water hit the banks of the winding river with such force that houses high on the cliffs were lifted right up. The ancient cypress trees uprooted like twigs and slammed into bridges and other debris. Cars and trucks floated away. People found themselves unable to get to their cars and out to the roads. Low water crossings filled and blocked passage out of the hill country. All in the pouring rain on a pitch black night. I did manage to get the cats and rabbits into the car and drive around downed trees onto a higher street. Electricity was out all over Wimberley and the police were directing us to the community center which was dark as well. There were people sitting in their cars there in the dark. But at the door was Mayor Thurber, and his voice in the dark advised me to go to the high school.
With over 100 cars in the parking lot, there were lights, a dry spot on the basketball court floor, and the Red Cross was handing out sleeping pads, blankets, dry socks (oh, dry socks! it was impossible to describe how nice they felt on my feet). I left the animals in the car and joined the masses and their dogs (so good to see they were included) and we sat our sleep deprived bodies down and waited for daylight. I checked on the animals when the rain took a rare break. They were quiet, but working up a permanent stink eye for me when I opened the car door. In the morning, I joined a couple of my neighbors as we discovered each other, and we came back to the neighborhood only to find the police had blocked off the road leading to our houses. Major flooding down past us, starting at our neighborhood. We were allowed in, and the three of us were overjoyed to find our houses just out of range of the tsunami-like wall of water that hit the rest of the street. All the homes directly on the river were ruined and news coverage shows that was the tip of the iceberg. But standing in my little cabin, looking around at everything just like I left it, I stopped and felt a palpable surge of gratitude rush through me. I knew that I was feeling Grace. I had been allowed to experience the trauma without the devastation. And in that moment, I realized I was experiencing Grace.
The sadness of the whole town is unbearable. Family members missing and dead, pets missing and dead. Hundred year old trees and their inhabitants gone. It is spring and numerous birds and their young were drowned. Does who had recently given birth were abandoning their fawns.
The numbness of mind and heart are palpable.
In my world, without electricity, phone and internet, the perspective was so personal, so right here. Watching it now as the rest of the country got to see it is shockingly personal. I have often sat in my recliner and watched tragedies unfold with the voice of the commentator filling my mind with the facts and events as they progress. But inside of a tragedy, there is no such Big Picture. There is only the moment filled with fear and unknowns. Clarity of mind was not without difficulty. So the witness aspect of me had everything in control, car packed, essentials, knew how to find shelter. But the emotional part of me was terrified. I’d never lived through a natural disaster like this before.
Lying on the wooden floor of the basket ball court at the high school, I found it impossible to sleep. I listened to the voices of the people who came in, numb with shock, with tales much worse than mine. Cars floating away, family members missing, swimming through the foul, violent water full of toxic debris to get to higher ground. Some were visitors whose vacations were abruptly ended in tragedy. Others have lived with the moody river currents and had never seen anything like this before. Not re-assuring. I was cold and wet and the night was agonizingly long.
The week after the flood has been almost as violently chaotic as the flood itself. Bulldozers and bobcats drone on all day long clearing the larger pieces of homes, cars, 200 year old cypress trees, roots and all, and mud. Awful, stinky, toxic mud that piled up into the homes that were left standing. Yet, my little corner of the neighborhood dodged a bullet, and we are unscathed by the hand of darkness that ruined the houses beyond us. There has been plenty to do and for me it looked like collecting a newborn fawn whose mother abandoned her amidst the chaos. Texas A&M had an emergency vet clinic at the high school. Very helpful. They were able to rehydrate her and send her off to a wildlife rehabber to join countless other orphans. Wildlife had joined in our life interrupted. Even now I hear a heron calling to a mate whose nest was most likely in a tall cypress that was destroyed. A kitten appeared on the road, barely able to avoid the cars, starving and displaced. She has found a good home and a loving person to care for her.
Since I see each experience as an opportunity to awaken, I am spending my quiet time reflecting on what this experience means to me personally. Why was I here at this time and place? How was it my good fortune to have been spared the brutal impact of the river’s violence. How do I respond to the layers of fears and emotions that I find flowing through my body flooding into my consciousness. The anxiety that kept me vigilant that night has stayed inside me. It fights to stay alive as the exhaustion sets in. I work to release the anxiety, all the while thinking about how the disaster will change the lives of so many people here and wondering just how it will change mine.
July 21. It has been seven weeks after the now named Memorial Day flood. My cats have resumed their routines as have many townspeople. After all, how else can one heal from the traumas of life. Yet, early this morning I felt the low rumble of two massively huge trucks work their way around our narrow lane to the mountains of crumpled cement and rebar that remain after the foundations of the ruined houses were jack-hammered loose from their peaceful perches above the riverbanks. The trucks have their own cranes and can carry the weight of the heavy debris. I wonder how much of it all can be reused as fill or whatever. How careful we are to recycle and in one horrendous moment, everything becomes trash. Like the tsunami in Japan washing up on the Pacific coast of the US months later. How do I hold the futility of it all in balance with throwing the next plastic bottle into the recycle bin. I remember Ram Dass giving a lecture many years ago on “how to keep your heart open in hell.” I thought that I understood that concept but here it was again. I feel the shock wearing off and yet I have a deep vulnerability that lives in my cells and calls out for understanding and a rebirth of my perspective of being in the world. My life has been about awakening to new perspectives as change spins me like the planet spiraling through the cosmos. Always perceiving moments with new awareness, revisiting memories and feelings to alter them into the Present. The flood has whisked me into it’s powerful jet of water and sent me out of control down the stream into uncharted channels of my consciousness.
What an amazing process.