Saturday, January 15, 2005

Letter From Tina - Flood Details

Tina is the sister of the "better-half note". She lives in Santa Clara Utah. Following is her account of the events this week regarding the Santa Clara River Floods.


Hello to all, Since we have made the national news, although very briefly, I thought I would write to you about my own thoughts and relay some of the sights I have seen or experienced.
The flood started in earnest by Sunday. The Santa Clara River started rising after the snow we enjoyed on Saturday melted. By Monday morning, we received an early morning call to help sand bag. Brent was able to help before leaving for work. Marcus, Brent and myself sand bagged in the early morning hours by the light of the fire trucks. BOY, are those bags heavy. It was easy to fill them, but tying them and tossing them proved to be more of a challenge for me. It continued to rain throughout the day. Consistent rain….

Tuesday morning I ventured down to the river side to see for myself. I notice my neighbors were also there. I stared in disbelief at the sight. Their property (Tony it was the Grafs, if you remember them) was gone. Completely gone, the barn, corrals, chicken coups, farm land, everything! Luckily there were no animals involved. As I stood on the banks of the river (not too close), I saw three trees disappear before my eyes within about 15 minutes. The river was cutting away underneath and things would drop off without warning. I quickly backed up a bit more.

I was near the apricot orchard the church owns a little bit in front of the shed where they store all the ladders. I noticed all the ladders were on the other side of the orchard. One man said while sand bagging the previous morning that we had an assignment to help prune the orchard, but said he didn’t think we would be doing it in the rain. So when I saw all the ladders out there, I thought, boy that is dedication because of the raging river and rain. Then I notice the shed all those ladders were stored in, it was hanging off the edge of the river. They weren’t pruning, they were saving the equipment.

I talked with my neighbor and offered what words of comfort I could muster. Her eyes held disbelief and sadness. All that history was gone. Their grandfathers land, work, and efforts -- gone. It was so sad. There is no other way to describe the feelings. It is just so sad here. They commented on the Cook’s home that was three weeks away from being finished being in danger. I looked at the home, but it was still a good 50 feet away from the edge of the river. But with the river eating away at the land at a rate of 1 foot per minute (and that is NOT an exaggeration!) I understood later what they were talking about. The Cook’s had been laying tile that morning. It was the first house to go into the river. It is one that is seen on TV. That was only two hours later from when I was standing there looking at it that it fell into the river.

The river was so unpredictable. It would change course without notice. The river has its own course now and they are trying to get it back on course. The river now flows behind the Swiss Village Condo’s (although early in the storm it was an island in the river) and took out another house behind the condo’s and changes direction to flow in front of the Jacob Hamblin home (the home is fine - high and dry - the water is up to the first row of peach trees). Then it turns back south to it’s original course. It makes a sharp turn towards the post office along the road next to the orchard. The orchard seems to have survived, although everything on the other side of the orchard (fields and one house are completely gone). I think there are a few trees missing in the orchard, but as a whole it faired very well compared to everything surrounding it.

The banks of the river in places are 10-12 feet high now (some places it is higher and some lower). That was when there was water in it. I don’t know how tall they are now with the water receding.

The river normally flows at this time of year at 5 cubic feet a second. At the peak of the flood, it was flowing at 6,500 cubic feet a second, and currently it was at 275 cubic feet a second. It was a creek and I thought the word “river” was so big for such a tiny creek. I knew the history of the river and respected the name, but I’ll tell you what, EVERYBODY in town understands its name now! It was a creek my kids played in on hot summer days, splashing and playing around in (even Calvin when he was only 2 because it was so low even at the highest level). People live on the other side and just drive their vehicles across it without difficulty. There is no paved road, just dirt.

I have watched from different places in the heights the growth of the river. By the orchards it is now about 100 yards wide. The river was the biggest thing I saw when looking out over the valley. Now it is a huge scar as the water recedes.

They have blasted the river to clean the debris away. It isn’t the remains of the homes (17 homes total went into the river and 10 more that cannot be lived in because of hanging off the edge or partial loss) they are clearing away, it is the cotton wood trees, logs, and other vegetation that seems to be the biggest problem. They have remarked on the news that they still haven’t seen parts of the homes that went into the river. They are only finding small pieces maybe a foot long. Chunks of concrete mostly. The homes went into the river and became a toy, easily destroyed. The homes (parts) passed under the numerous (narrow in some places) bridges without difficulty.

The blasting really bugged me a lot. I was talking with my mother-in-law when yet another blast hit. I was reduced to tears while talking with her. I guess an uncertain day of high emotions and the unexpected blasts that shook the house and hit my chest while sitting in my own home (knocked things off my neighbors walls) was more than I could handle that night. The blasting finally ended at 11:00 pm only to resume the next day with one really large blast. So far nothing today.

Today as I went to my look out points I notice there wasn’t the chatter I have heard from days previous among the onlookers. There is only silence as people look. They don’t even talk to their own group. It is only silence. I feel like I’m alone while looking, free to get lost in my thoughts and am surprised to look around to see a crowd that had gathered since my coming. Only silence as the clean up begins.

It is a huge task. Millions of dollars worth of damage. I’m not sure what the dollar figures are for just Santa Clara (we lost sewage, water, utility, and phone lines) but they are saying 68 million dollars. I’m not sure if that includes the loss of the homes. I don’t think it does. They are still assessing the damage and the dollar figure rises daily. We are not affected here in the heights except for the conservation of all water usage because of the strain on a system very much compromised.

The next few days we will be removing the sand bags from the homes, only to store them for the coming spring run off. We have a lot of snow on the mountains right now. The reservoirs are spilling over and no vegetation to help.

So there you have my view of it. It has been an exhausting week. From the sand bagging to silence of the moment. Overall, I’m amazed at the destruction, blessings, and am in awe of both nature and fellow human beings.

People here have been superb. In Green Valley (hardest hit) a group of people would go from house to house and clean it out within 30 minutes and have it loaded in a truck for these people. U-haul offered their trucks free with only asking they return them full of gas. People have sand bagged, hauled the bags in their own trucks to the location they were needed. Others have offered storage in their empty garages, and other here in Santa Clara cooked meals for those volunteering. A plea for help during the peak of the flood went out in Santa Clara and 200 men from the town showed up for whatever task they were assigned.

It has been so overwhelming in so many ways. Good and certainly the bad. It deepens my sense of what life is about. Things have come to memory giving this further meaning. I’m so glad I live here in Santa Clara. The people are great. This happened a 100 years ago to my ancestors and now I get the chance to create a new history …

Pray for our town. We need it.

All my love,

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