FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK: What I learned from the '95 flood

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Liz Beavers

Every time the weather prognosticators call for a significant rain event like came through our area this week, I get nervous.

Once you have experienced having your home and belongings damaged or destroyed by flooding, you never forget that feeling.

When I moved to Westernport 30 years ago, and moved on the side of a hill, flooding issues were the last thing on my mind.

Twenty-six years ago, however,  a steady three days of rain resulted in a wall of water coming down the hill and into our homes.

My family and I were lucky; we were able to salvage most of our belongings and clean up our home. We still live there today. But that fear of what could have been - or what could still be - will always be there.

And so as we all awaited the outcome of this week’s visit by Tropical Storm Ida, I thought back on a column I had written about my experience back in 1995, and what I learned from it. Believe it or not, I found a copy of that column and thought I would share it today - for those who, like me, dodged the bullet this week, but especially for those who were not so lucky.

What I wrote 26 years ago still holds true today.

The headline was: “We survived the Flash Flood of ’95”

 * * * * *

The mud has finally dried, giving yards that were once green and lush the appearance of a barren, deserted land.

The yellow “Danger” tapes have either been taken down, or have sagged onto the ground, ignored by those working to restore the life to many of the once well-kept homes.

And the garbage, which had gotten quite rank in the last few days, has been hauled away.

The outward signs of the Flash Flood of ’95 have begun to slowly fade away, as the good people of Keyser and the Tri-Towns area continue to struggle to come out from under the debris.

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The powerful emotions the disaster left with us all, however, will remain for a long, long time.

As our faithful readers probably know by now, my home was hit by the June 27 flooding in Westernport. A solid concrete block retaining wall behind my house gave way, sending, as one person described it, “millions of gallons of water and mud” crashing through my yard and into my house.

When we received word that there was trouble at home during the downpour, I was working in Keyser; my husband in LaVale. Neither of us could get through on any of the roads to Westernport to find out what had happened to our property or our pets.

The only thing we knew for sure was that our son was safe - I had finally gotten through to my babysitter on the telephone and was assured she and Aaron were well and keeping dry.

The only thing worse than those hours of agony from not knowing what was going on at home was the terrible sense of shock and loss when we finally did get home and were given a very graphic look at what Mother Nature can really do.

I will never forget that feeling. It is one I don’t want to ever experience again. In a perfect world, no one would ever have to experience it again.

Several days after that initial shocker, as we all tried to cope with the situation and began the long clean-up process, many of us came to realize that indeed we would make it through this catastrophe.

I laughingly told several people that, after spending hour after hour in my yard/basement/house, covered in mud, shoveling debris and pulling personal items from the muck, I should have the best, smoothest skin anyone ever saw.

And some may have wondered how anyone could joke about a tragedy that resulted in the loss of thousands of dollars of personal property and damage to our home.

The answer is, you HAVE to laugh, and you have to keep a positive attitude, holding on to that which makes us strong - determination, strength of character, belief in a higher power, and compassion for one another.

The one thing I will always remember after all of this is over - besides that awful, indescribable sewer smell that sometimes comes back when it rains - is the undying spirit of the people of this area.

They say it takes a tragedy to bring people together, and that philosophy was vividly illustrated during the days following that June 27 downpour, as the people of the community came out to check on one another and offer their help wherever needed.

Even many of those who suffered losses themselves generously took the time to help their neighbors and friends who perhaps had it a little worse than they did.

And I was often reminded during those long days that, no matter how bad it seems, there are always blessings that need to be counted.

No one was killed.

Most of the damages - although extensive - are repairable.

Many of our residents have gained a new respect for Mother Nature - and for one another.

Oftentimes I have watched news footage on TV depicting areas hit by heavy flooding and I wondered why anyone would possibly be crazy enough to rebuild once they are hit by such tragedy.

But now I understand. It has a lot to do with the time and money you have invested in your home, but it mostly has to do with the fact that it is your HOME. The place where memories are made and hopes and dreams are shared. The place where you and your neighbors have built community.

Every time I think of that week after the flood, and the special people who gave of themselves so that others might not give up, I am overwhelmed.

The examples are numerous.

One afternoon, I walked out onto my front porch to find a former co-worker, whom I had not seen in at least six years, out in my driveway in the pouring rain, shoveling mud and gravel out of the way to help keep my basement from flooding again.

A couple who live two streets above us had had a wall fall in at their house too, yet they took the time to check on us and stayed most of one afternoon to help us begin draining our pool to clear it of the mud and debris.

And then there was the lady who stopped cleaning up her own mud-splattered house long enough to bring sandwiches and Cokes for our “crew” slopping mud out of our basement.

Family members have put in endless hours hauling heavy buckets of mud out of the pool, washing dirty water marks from linens and furniture, meticulously cleaning mud from delicate, irreplaceable Christmas ornaments, and yes, even bringing in meals when we got so busy we sort of forgot to eat.

The list goes on, and on, and the sad part about it is, most of the folks who spent so much time and energy helping their neighbors will never receive the thanks they deserve. They came, they worked - in conditions you couldn’t pay me to deal with - and they moved on. Not expecting any thanks, but certainly deserving all we can possible lavish on them.

They are truly the unsung heroes of our community - and the best reason I can think of for living in a small town.

Several days after the flood, I told some special friends the story of the little flower pot in my yard. It stood on the edge of my driveway, and every time I brought out the garden hose to water my freshly-planted flowers and shrubbery, I would inevitably knock that little flower pot over onto the sidewalk.

Every time. Knock it over. Pick it up. Knock it over. Pick it up. Pat the dirt back in around the plant. Knock it over. Pick it up … and on and on.

Then the Flash Flood of ’95 came rushing through my yard, taking with it the flowers and shrubbery that my husband and I had spent so many hours planting and caring for.

And do you know when it was all over, what was left standing in my yard? One of the first things I noticed when looking around at the mud pit that was once my yard? That irrepressible little flower pot - still standing on the edge of my driveway!

It had been hit by the water, as evidenced by the debris that had washed up against the side of the pot, but it was still standing!

Just like the people of our community - still standing, still “blooming,” refusing to give up.

And I knew right then and there that we, as a family and as a community - would survive.

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. You can check out her bio and more of her work at https://www.newstribune.info/staff/6477370002/liz-beavers/. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.