Monday, September 13, 2010

Chehalis, Washington Flood 2007

Dear Blog readers: Jeff Bennight is my brother. I decided to put his flood story up on my blog because it's a rather inspiring story of how to deal with adversity.

Why did you move here?

My story Chehalis River Flood of 2007
Written by: Jeff Bennight

During March of 2006 my wife Shereen and I found the home that we are currently living in while doing a search on the Internet.

Prior to that, since about July of 2003, Shereen and I had become more and more restless with where we lived and couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed to make a move. This was difficult for us because we had built our home in Orting on 3 raw acres and had put the finishing touches on it little by little to make it work for our family.

Off and on for 3 years we searched the Internet for a new place to live. When we saw this home we loved a lot of things about it. Just after seeing it on the Internet I remember saying to my wife, “I would move for a place like that!!”

So a couple of weeks later in March of 2006, we scheduled an appointment with the realtor to show us this home. We saw this home and several others that day. We liked this home, we thought it was a great house, but we were also concerned that it was too close to the Chehalis River and that it could potentially flood. I had lived in this area 14 years earlier and was very aware of the potential flood danger in the Chehalis valley. So we cooled off on it for several weeks; however, something kept drawing us back to look again at this place.

We set up another appointment with the realtor to come and see the place. We talked with the homeowner, Mary, about the flood danger. According her story, which we have no evidence to disbelieve, this home had never flooded in the 107 years of its existence. In the worst of floods the waters came around the home but never into the home.

We found another home up on Cousins road that we loved, but it was one bedroom too small for our family.

So Shereen and I prayed about it more, and we set up a third time to come and look at the two homes. After we thought about it more, we concluded that the Adna house would be the best fit for our family and us and we decided that regardless of our concerns this was the right place for us to move our family to.

So we made an offer on the home, and put our Orting house on the market. While waiting for a buyer for our home Shereen and I talked about how we intended to open our Adna home to the ward and community for any events that they wanted to hold there. Youth Firesides, choir practices and so forth. The Adna home is known my many in the community as the old Blakemore farmhouse. There is a huge plaque on a BIG maple tree in front of the house that has Jim Blakemore’s name on it for having saved the tree from being cut down back in 1964.

Well our home in Orting didn’t sell, and we were anxious to get moved to Adna before the school year began, so we decided to work out a different plan and rent our home in Orting and go ahead and close on this house in Adna.
Since living here we have fallen in love with the communities of Adna and Chehalis, as well as the quietness of our surroundings and the good people of our home ward and Stake. This past summer we had a huge family reunion here for Shereen’s side of the family.

We discovered a swimming hole where we cooled off during the hot days many times this past summer. We only had to walk about 200 feet over to the edge of the river, across the train trestle, down the rock pile and descend down a dirt trail about 30 feet in elevation to the river.

We also took our extended family boating at Mayfield Lake, and horseback riding in our back pasture.

We have enjoyed entertaining many people since moving here in August of 2006. While entertaining people and making new friends, I have been asked on a number of occasions what brought us to Adna, how did we find this place? Of course, we found it on the Internet, but as to why we moved here, I don’t know. But we sure have enjoyed the experience of living here. We feel at home here and we feel loved here.
On December 1st 2007 our family went out in the cold wet snowy weather to pick out and cut down our Christmas tree at the Sandrini Christmas tree farm. My two littlest boys, Spencer and Joseph, and me drove the old blue pickup so we could carry the tree home in it, while the rest of the family followed us in the Suburban.

Once we picked out what was to be our Christmas tree of 2007, I cut it down with the chain saw and dragged it tree out to the road while the family went back to the suburban to warm up.

Once I got to the road, I walked back and got into the old blue truck and drove it down to where the tree laid on the side of the road. Shereen followed me down there in the Suburban, and she and I got out of our vehicles at the same time and ran over to where the tree lay. We picked it up and threw it into the back of our old blue pickup truck. We all got back in our vehicles, cranked up the heat and drove home.

Once we got home, I hopped out of the truck, grabbed the tree and put it on our front porch. I let it lay there for a while to dry off and then came back outside and measured the length to make sure I cut it right so it would fit in our house. I fired up the chain saw on the front porch and cut the end of the tree off.

We brought the tree into our house and set it up on the tree stand in the corner of the living room. Our son, Chris, who had just returned from his mission, was at work and wanted us to wait until he got home before we began to decorate the tree. So we went about our business the rest of the day waiting for his return.

I was interested in what the weather was going to be doing this weekend so around 5 that evening I turned on the news. The forecast was for more heavy snow above 1000 feet during the night, but then 2 subsequent weather systems were coming in off of the Pacific Ocean that were much warmer and much more powerful. The first of the two storms was to arrive early Sunday morning and the 2nd was to arrive about 24 hours later, on Monday. They were forecasting several inches of rain from each of these two storms.

I have lived in Washington for over 30 years now, and I know that in our climate area cold snowy weather systems followed by warm, wet weather systems have in past winters equaled flooding. Where it would flood and to what degree it would flood, who could know? Even the weather forecasters don’t get it right a lot of the time, but when I see this combination in a weather forecast it always gives me a heads up.

As we got up Sunday morning and got ready for church, I looked outside and it was pouring rain - a very hard, incessant rainfall, and it didn’t let up throughout the day. We all got soaked going from the car into church, and then it was a mad dash back out to the car after church to try and avoid getting completely soaked again.

We stayed at home that evening and watched the Christmas Broadcast on the BYU channel at home. After the broadcast was over, we had our family home evening and reviewed our schedule for the week. After that we said our prayers and put the little ones to bed.

I remember that I picked up our church magazine, The Ensign, and read an article in the December issue written by Merrill J. Bateman called A Season for Angels. I remember being struck by this article. It made the point that during the beginning of each dispensation of time angelic ministers came from the other side of the veil to assist the Lord in his work, but as time elapses and the number of faithful members increase, more is expected of those in mortality. “May we rise to the occasion and minister to those in need in our day. May we be reminded of our promises to bear one another’s burdens, …to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places…and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that (we) may have eternal life.” He went on to write, “May we, as angels of mercy, minister to other families and to those in need in the ‘fullness of times’ so that the Lord’s work may move forward.” I remember pondering this point of Elder Bateman’s article for awhile, thinking about how we can actually become ministering angels to each other in times of need.

Later that evening I went out to the barn to feed to horses. They were all in their stalls trying to avoid the wet weather. The wind was blowing the rain sideways into the stalls, and they quickly became a muddy mess.

We went to bed at the normal time, but I remember throughout the night being woken by the noise of the water rushing through the gutter downspouts on the side of our house. It was apparent that during the night the rain was not letting up.

When I got up in the morning, the level of the river had risen 15-20 feet overnight and was now backing up under the rail trestle and filling up the field across the street from our home. We saw this happen last winter, and although it was concerning, the water never came across the road.

I decided that morning, due to the weather conditions and concerns about potential flooding, that I should stay at home and work instead of making my usual Monday morning trip to the office in Auburn. So over the phone I had my normal conference with the owners of the company. At about 10 am while I was speaking with the owners of the company, I looked out the window and saw that the floodwaters were now spilling across Bunker Creek Road (the road we live on). The water was filling up the drainage ditch and about to spill over our driveway. I told the owners I needed to cut it short because the flood conditions were getting worse and I had to go dig a ditch. Then I went outside to assess what was going on.

The approach to our driveway was under water, and the back pasture was filling up with water enough now that the horses’ stalls were flooding out as well. I quickly realized how pointless it would be to dig a drainage ditch with the water rising so fast.

I decided I needed to get our horses out of the barn and up to higher ground. I went over to the neighbors to ask Pat if he would mind if I let the horses out on to his hillside to get them to higher ground. He had no problem with it. He said in jest, “welcome to Adna, this is going to be a bad one.”

I rushed back to the barn and let the horses out the backside of our property. The muddy, ice-cold water was up to my knees back there at that time. The horses were very cooperative in following my lead up onto the hillside and they stayed up there for the duration of this flooding event.

About an hour after that I got a phone call from Vicki Guenther; who is Joanne Lasley’s visiting teacher. Sister Lasley is an elderly woman in our ward who lives about 3 miles up the road from us. Vicki said Joanne was stranded in her home and the waters were rising around her home. I told her I had no way of getting to Joanne because the waters were completely over the road now. I was saddened to get this call. Had I known of her situation, I could have gone a couple of hours ago and picked her up, but now it was too late. I worried about Joanne for the rest of the day and throughout the night, hoping someone was able to go and get her out of her home.

Around noon it was apparent that our vehicles were also in danger of being flooded. Shereen had the idea of trying to put the vehicles that sit lower up on blocks, but in my gut I knew that would not be the best idea. Even though it was risky, I told her to drive the suburban ahead of me through the flooded approach to our driveway and I would follow her in the Mustang. She hesitated at the thought a little, being a bit afraid of the Mustang not making it, and I again said: I have to do this now, or we will not get it out of here at all. I have a small chance now; if I wait any longer I will have no chance, so let’s go…

She relented and agreed to do as I asked. As we were walking out to the vehicles, I noticed that there was a crack developing in the road in front our house. The water pressure from under the road was causing a big bulge in the road and water was actually flowing out of the crack in the road. Shereen got into the suburban and as we agreed, she drove out first. I put a chain in the Suburban just in case we stalled trying to cross, so we could pull it out the rest of the way. I then followed her and approached the flooded entry in the Mustang and accelerated. The water splashed up and over the top of the Mustang, but I kept it going and made it across the flooded entry. I was so relieved… We took the car to the Adna school bus parking area up on a hill. We then went back and got the company vehicle and did the same thing, barely making it across the approach to our driveway.

When we got back home, maybe 20 minutes later, there were people lined up on Bunker Creek Road in big 4-wheel drive trucks, taking their turns driving through the flooded waters to pick up people further down the road who were stranded in their homes. We finally got through the backup and drove our Suburban for the last time back into our driveway and parked it beside our house, thinking it would probably be fine since it sits up a lot higher than the rest of our vehicles.

At about 1 pm I looked back towards the barn and noticed that our old blue pickup parked in its stall in the barn was now flooded up to the doors. I ran up stairs and got the keys to the truck. Put on my waders and went out to the truck. I climbed through the back sliding window and the water was up to the gas and brake pedals of the truck. The truck started right up, and I drove it out of the stall and parked it next to the suburban, thinking that it should be safer up there on higher ground.

The waters continued to rise by the hour. It was getting close to the top step of the carriage house behind us, which we rent out to a single lady, Janine Walker, and her 3 girls. Shereen decided we needed to help Janine by moving her stuff up the stairs to try and keep things out of harm’s way in her apartment.

Shereen went in and then quickly came back out and called for my help because there was so much stuff to move. I went in to help her and the two of us were grabbing whatever we could to get up off the floor and up the stairs as fast as we could. We got a lot of her stuff put into bags, but within 20 minutes the water was right at the door. Shereen didn’t have any boots on so I carried her on my back over to the back steps of our house.

As she went inside our house I saw that the water was now pouring over the outdoor entry to our basement. It was rushing in so fast we had little time to spare anything in the basement. Chris and I went down into the basement waters and moved boxes of books to the stairs that lead into the house while Shereen moved them the rest of the way into the house. We then took the frozen food out of the freezer and moved it all upstairs.

Chris and I decided to try and save the ping-pong table. We pushed it on its roller wheels over to the entry of the basement and with cold water spilling over our backs into the outside entry of the basement, tried to pull it out of the basement. It was useless; we could not move it against the power of the water pushing against us. The water was now waist deep in the basement and I told Chris to let the table go because I needed to go turn off the power to the house. He let go, and as I walked and pushed my way through the freezing water, I noticed that the hot water heater was floating and dangling by its pipes. For a moment, I considered trying to deal with it, but quickly regained my focus to turn off the power to the house. I went over to the breaker boxes, very aware of the electrical danger. The water was right up to the bottom of them as I carefully reached for the breaker switches and shut everything off.

I walked back over to the inside entrance of the basement and up the stairs, where I paused to catch my breath. Chris and I noticed that the water level was now high enough in the basement that it was no longer spilling over the entrance. So we went back into to the freezing water, now chest high, and grabbed the ping-pong table, which was floating around. We brought it over to the entrance of the basement, pulled it out of the water and carried it up to rest on the back steps of our home

I don’t know what it was about the stupid ping-pong table that made it worth all of that; I guess we were just determined not to be beat in some small way.

At this point the water was completely around our home. I went inside got dried off and took a hot bath. When I came downstairs at about 2 pm, I looked out the windows of our home and went over to the inside entry to the basement which sits about 3 feet lower than the main floor and saw that water was coming into the house in that lower area.

I told everyone that we needed to move our belongings upstairs. So immediately we were scurrying around the house moving the tables, chairs, bookshelves, cabinets, books, rugs, lamps, etc. We put the leather sofas on the their backs on top of the dining table, and stacked the chairs on top of the sofas.

While we were involved in moving everything upstairs we all kept glancing outside to see how high the water was getting. It continued to rise, and as it was up to the top steps of both the back porch and the front porch, we just finished moving the last few things upstairs. It took us about 90 minutes to get everything up except for one last thing, the big screen HDTV. I paused for a moment and took a mental note. I wondered why the last thing left to move upstairs was the TV. The TV… why was the TV the last priority?

As we finished moving the TV upstairs the water began seeping in through the floors of the home and under the doors. We had a fire going in our fireplace, so we decided to put it out before the waters came into the fireplace. We opened up the side window next to the fireplace and scooped out the burning embers and ashes and dumped them out of our side window into the water surrounding the house.

We then got our 72-hour packs out of the pantry, along with extra food, water, and our emergency wind up radio, and headed upstairs. A few minutes later I could hear the remaining hot ashes in the fireplace simmering as the waters flowed into the fireplace, sounding like it does when you dump water onto a campfire.

Looking out the upstairs windows of our home we could see that the water was halfway up the carriage house sliding glass doors, and three-quarters of the way up the side of the blue truck and the suburban. It was apparent that the vehicles were going to be damaged and probably totaled. Strangely enough, the brake lights came on in the suburban and the back wipers were going.

A few minutes later Shereen called me over to the back window in our bathroom to point something out to me. It was then that I realized that while we had made a valiant effort to salvage what we could in the house, everything we owned in the garage and barn was being destroyed by the floodwaters. She pointed outside towards the apple orchard and asked, “What is that in the water?” Caught up on the fence that surrounds the orchard I could see the tongue of my boat trailer bobbing up and down in the current. I told her it was our boat, and that it appeared to have sunk and turned over on its top.

It was then that I started kicking myself for not remembering that the plug was not in the boat because the last time we used it at the lake, as anyone normally does, I pulled it out to drain the lake water. So the boat sank in the floodwaters and was washed out the back of the barn. This was tough for me because I kept saying to myself had I only known that it was going to be this bad I could have moved the boat and the horse trailer. I kept going over this whole day time and again thinking of all the things I would have done differently if I had known had bad it was going to be.

I went up to the third floor to look out the window and further survey the situation and noticed a sheriff’s boat driving by our home on the waters over Bunker Creek Road with as many as 20 people in it that they had rescued. I caught the eye of an unknown woman in the boat and I waved at her to sort of offer my gratitude that she and the others had been rescued and she waved back at me.

For some reason while being caught up in this disastrous event it wasn’t until seeing this boat go by that it hit me what an epic level flooding disaster this had become. I had seen this sort of thing on TV in other parts of the world many times. However, I had never been in the middle of such a disaster in my entire life.

Now, right outside of my front window, there was a boatload of rescued people going down the street, which was now beneath 4-5 feet of water. We now had no way of leaving. Both of our vehicles sat there underwater and obviously inoperable, and my own boat sunk. I kept anguishing over why I didn’t think about putting the plug in the boat. Our family has had a lot of fun memories out on the lake in that boat.

We set up a kitchen area in our bathroom, lit up the oil lamps, cranked up the windup flashlights and hung out together on our bed for a while. Helicopters were flying over our home very 30-45 minutes with their spotlights. This did not cease throughout the entire night.

At about 6 pm we turned on the windup radio and tuned it in to the local AM station for a report on the conditions. They were calling for voluntary evacuations and warning that the floodwaters would not crest until 10 am the next morning. This caused me even more alarm and worry. The water was already on the first floor, and with what we had already seen so far throughout the day, how high would it get by 10 am the next morning?

I told Shereen I didn’t think we would be able to stay here, and that we may, too, have to evacuate. But she helped me calm down and reasoned with me that we would be better off here than being rescued by a boat or helicopter and having to stay in a shelter somewhere. So we gathered our children together, turned off the radio, and oddly enough my cell phone rang; it never works out at our house. It was Janine Walker wanting to know what the situation was at our place. It was hard for me to tell her that although we tried to save her belongings, the water was much higher than we ever expected and that most of her things on the first floor were now under water. She struggles to get by in life as it is, and it saddened me to have to be the bearer of bad news.

Since I had a little bit of a signal on my cell phone, I was able to call Jerry Guenther, the High Priests group leader in our ward and let him know our situation. I spoke with him briefly, only to lose my signal and drop the call. At least he knew where we were and that we were OK.

At about 7 pm Chris and our daughter, Marcia, went to their rooms for the night to go to bed. Andrew, our 16-year-old with Down syndrome, and our 2 youngest, Spencer and Joe, slept on the floor in our bedroom for the night.

Our daughter, Rachel who lives in Tacoma, was frantically trying to get a hold of us. I noticed that she left us a message on my cell phone. I tried to call her but the cell signal was not strong enough to talk. However, I did have enough of a signal that I could send and receive text messages. So I sent a text message to Rachel letting her know that we were at home and that we were safe. I also sent a text message to the owners of our company to let them know what our situation was, and they, too, were relieved to hear from me, but also had great concern for our situation.

I stayed awake the whole night. Whenever a helicopter flew over I would get up and go over to the stairs and check the water level in the house. At about 7 pm the water in the house was about 6 inches deep.

Shereen and I prayed with the boys in our room. While I was praying I became emotional as I prayed that Rachel and Shereen’s mom would be at peace knowing that we were OK.
Apparently that prayer didn’t work too well because the both of them were up all night calling each other and wondering what they could do to help us. No one but God could help us that night - the roads were covered in water and access to the area by car was impossible.

I remember saying to my wife as we lay there in our bed in the darkness, “What are we going to do honey? Are we going to have to move back to our home in Orting?” She comforted me, and replied, “Let’s not worry about it right now; let’s see what our situation is in the morning; we’ll take it a day at a time. If it turns out that we don’t have the money or the will to recover from this, then we can feel fortunate that we even have that as an option. Whatever it is that we end up doing, it will be OK.”

I went down to the stairwell with the flashlight and looked at the water level in the house again at about 8 pm. I noticed something that surprised me. The water had not risen since about 7 pm. I wondered how that could be. The forecast on the radio had said that the floodwaters would not crest until 10 am the next morning… The helicopters flew over again at about 9 pm., and I went back to look at the stairwell - the waters had not moved. I repeated this every time the helicopters flew over throughout the night and at about 1 am the water level in the house had actually gone down about 2 inches.

I began to pray to thank the Lord for sparing us any further damage and for sustaining us through this night of disaster.

I didn’t get up and look again until about 4 am. This time all of the water was gone from our first floor, but there was a layer of brown mud that smelled like the river. I was relieved but at the same time a bit puzzled at the differentiation between the forecasted timeframe of the floodwaters cresting and what actually transpired that night. I consider this to be a miracle because it appeared to me that the waters had actually crested 14 hours before their forecasted time, and that we were spared from any more damage than what had already taken place.

At 6 am Tuesday morning I remember shining the flashlight out of our bedroom window down to the parking area where the suburban and truck were parked. The floodwaters had actually receded back down to half way up the doors of the two vehicles, but I also noticed that the floodwaters had moved the suburban about 20 feet from where I had parked it the day before.

At about 8:00 am we gathered the small ones around (Chris and Marcia were still asleep in their rooms), said our prayers and ate breakfast. I noticed that the waters had receded enough that I could walk out to the front yard of our home, so I hunted around for my work boots, put them on and went downstairs, taking great care not to slip and fall on the slippery mud covering our first floor.

As I walked to the front door, I noticed that our Christmas tree had tipped over and was lying in the muddy, wet carpet. It must have floated at the base and tipped over.

I went outside onto the front porch - it had a layer of mud all over it. I walked down the front porch steps out onto the sidewalk and onto the grass, covered in mud. I looked around for a few minutes. I noticed that the entire backside of our barn/shed was blown out. There was nothing left of it. I then stopped and stood there looking at the destruction around our home and our neighbor’s home, and cried…After a few minutes I walked back into the house and back upstairs to the family and talked to Shereen about what I had just seen out there on our property. We were simply stunned by it all.

I sent a few more text messages to Rachel and to the owners of our company to let them know that we were OK, and that this would be the only way of communicating with us for a few more hours.

At about 10 am the waters had completely receded from around our vehicles and we could now walk down our street, Bunker Creek Road, towards town. Marcia and I took a walk to town to see what we could see.

We were amazed at the logs lying across the road, the washed out train trestle bridge we used to walk over to go down to our favorite swimming hole, the fences that were bent over, the houses that were pushed completely off of their foundations and smashed like toothpicks. There were cars parked and abandoned, and gravel from driveways swept up by the current of the floodwaters into a piles. Plastic outdoor toys were found all over town. Garbage cans, picnic tables and lawn furniture were strewn everywhere.

We ran into our neighbor, Mr. Duncan, who lives towards town from us. He said that the whole town evacuated last night and that his and ours were the only two families in town that stayed. Everyone else left yesterday.

I was just numb at the destruction that I had witnessed in our little community of Adna.

Marcia and I walked back to the house and went inside. The waters continued to recede. At about noon we had lunch in our bedroom. The boys were getting restless so I suggested to Shereen that she and I take the boys for a walk through town and maybe make a few calls, since our cell phones typically work down the street from our house.

We took a walk and I pointed out things to her along the way that I saw and she pointed things out to me that I hadn’t seen the first time. We found our boat and our horse trailer, both of which were overturned and sitting in deep water about 200 feet from where they were parked the day before.

I saw a few people starting to clean up, but I was too numb to even think about it that day.

Later that afternoon our friends from Church, Dan and Laurissa Maughn, stopped by to see how we were doing. The Stahl’s happened to pull in behind them to check on us as well. The flood had damaged all three of our homes and we consoled each other. I asked if they had heard about Sister Lasley, and if anyone was able to rescue her from her home. Dan let me know that she had been rescued from her home by helicopter and aside from being a bit bruised up from the evacuation she was fine.

A little while after that Bishop Henricksen showed up to check on us. He asked what provisions we might need at this point. We let him know that we had the food we needed, but that I had turned off our power because the breaker boxes were in the basement and I didn’t want them on while submerged in the floodwater; and that it appeared that all of my tools were gone and I would need some help the next day with cleanup. A little while later the Jacksons came by with a generator and some food for us. I put the generator to use to get the TV on so we could get some news, and charge our cell phones back up.

Watching TV just brought even more heaviness to my heart about the gravity of the situation in our community. I had no idea how big a story this was to the rest of our neighboring cities and even the nation.

Off and on throughout the day the scripture found in Luke chapter 21, verses 25-26 kept going through my mind. “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.” The line in these verses, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear” was going through my mind over and over again, as I was certainly overwhelmed with the gravity of what had happened to the point that I felt I did not have the heart to face the consequences of this destruction.

At about 8 pm that evening the Bishop came back a second time to drop off a sump for our basement. I was much appreciative of his bringing this to us, and it was at this time I began to be encouraged that we would not be alone in trying to recover from this tragedy.

Since the waters had receded from our home, the outdoor phone box terminal was now out of the water, so I decided to try and plug our non-cordless phone into the phone jack to see if it would work. To our dismay, we got a dial tone. We checked our messages and there were over 20 that first day. Family members and friends had called to try and reach us to find out if we were OK.

We checked on these messages and called many of them back. We then found ourselves trying to comfort many of them, letting them know that we were OK and that we would start cleaning up tomorrow.

Many of them were not from this area and were hindered from coming to help us until the Interstate was reopened. At this point the authorities were saying it would reopen on Thursday night at the very soonest.

The Jacksons came over and offered to have Andrew, our son with Down syndrome, and our two youngest boys over to stay at their place for the night. The kids were very excited about it so we got everyone ready to go and sent the boys up to their place for the night. We then got settled in ourselves. I went outside and turned off the generator and went to sleep. I slept like a rock that night. I was comforted to know that so many people were already getting geared up to come and help us recover from this disaster.

Feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, failing to protect my family from danger were creeping into my thoughts. I felt that I had put my family into this position by buying a home so close to the river. I knew better than this from having lived in this area before.

At the same time, though, I was reminded of the feelings of assurance we had when we decided to move forward with purchasing this home. We had felt that this was the right home for us and had felt that assurance many times since moving here. So I began to return my trust in God that he would help us get through this day by day, and that somehow we would overcome the daunting task of cleanup.

The next morning I got up before the rest of the family and went outside. I looked around at our property - the boat upside down in the back pasture, the horse trailer out there, too, on its side. I also spotted the riding lawn mower’s wheels, as it was upside down in the back pasture. I saw my sons’ toy 4-wheeler stuck in the top of the pear tree, and as I stood there I cried again in disbelief at what had happened. I still felt shell-shocked by all the destruction and the danger we had been in the night of the flood. I just didn’t know how we could ever recover from this, and worried that if we ever did recover and put it all back together, it might just happen all over again. I was feeling frustrated and a bit foolish for buying a home so close to the river.

Once again, I somehow got over my self-pity quickly, as I felt assurance in my soul that moving here was the right thing to do.

I went back inside. We decided to call the garbage company to order a big dumpster so we would have a place for all the debris we were about to accumulate. I started up the generator, plugged in the sump pump to pump out the basement water and got that going. Mariah Shupe, Jon Jakoubek, Richard Larsen and one of their friends came with brooms in hand ready to get to work. Shereen and I had talked the night before about how we were going to tackle this cleanup effort, where we would begin and how we would make it work.

We started by cleaning out the family room first, but pushing mud with brooms was not working very well. I just happened to still have a squeegee in the basement and although it was full of water, one of the boys put on my waders and went down into the cold muddy water and found the squeegee that I had left down there the day before.

Once he got this out, the work went a lot faster. We pushed the mud out the front door of the house and out of the hallway on the main floor right out the front door. Once we got the mud out of that area of the home we moved the piano, which we had wrapped in blankets the day before, into the family room.

We then pulled up the carpet out of the living room. I had to cut it into small sections so we could lift it. It was very heavy even at that. Once we got all the carpet pulled up we moved all of the furniture that we had stacked on the dining room table, and once we got that room cleared out we started pushing the mud out of the dining room.

We pushed this mud out of the back door of the house onto the back porch steps. Then we pushed the mud out of the kitchen out the back door as well. We moved the ping-pong table that Chris and I had rescued off of the back porch and sat it on the sidewalk.

Once we had moved most of the mud out of the house, I got the idea that since we had no water for the pressure washer, I could use the water that was being generated from the sump pump pumping out the basement to wash the mud off of the front porch, the back porch, as well as the sidewalks. We repositioned the pump so that we could reach the front porch, turned it on and it worked beautifully. We had the mud off the porches and sidewalks within an hour.

Sister Jakoubek came and brought us all soup for lunch. That hit the spot. Brother Jackson brought over some plumbing supplies. I have a wellhead that we had just drilled a couple of months before the flood. It had the pump in it, but we needed to hook it up to a power source and then plumb it so a garden hose could be hooked to it. If we could accomplish this, we could use our pressure washer to clean up. Brother Jackson brought me some fittings for this project, but we were in need of plumbing glue. As Brother Jackson left to get some glue, he noticed a plumber working across the street from our house, and asked him if he wouldn’t mind coming over to our place to hook up the hose. He agreed to do that for us and within minutes we had the hose hooked up. I then wired the pump into the generator and started it up and we had water coming out of the wellhead.

I let it run for about an hour to let it clear up. Once it was cleared up, we ran a garden hose to the pressure washer and began washing the mud off of our stuff outside.

The youth that were there went into the carriage house, our small rental behind us, and began pulling out all of the clothes, furniture, appliances, carpeting and kitchen cabinets that were full of mud. Two days before when Shereen and I had tried to rescue our tenant’s belongings, we hoped that we had done some good, but we found that our efforts didn’t do much good at all, as everything was destroyed. The youth pressure washed the mud out of the carriage house as best they could, and that was about the end of the first day of cleanup.

The Jacksons invited us up to their home to shower and have a nice hot meal. We accepted their invitation. They fed us well and we were able to be with our boys for a while. They were doing just fine. We decided to let them stay one more night since we had no power or water at the house just yet.

Shereen and I and Marcia spent that night alone in our house. It was cold and dark because there was no power. The house smelled like river mud even though we had gotten most of it off of the floors.

We checked our messages again. There were another 20 messages on our voice mail, many of our friends and family calling concerned about our situation and wanting to know what they could do to help.

The next morning Shereen and I got up and had our breakfast. It was very odd for me that morning. I am usually a person that wakes up and is ready to get going and get started. I found that I was still overwhelmed with the mess and the destruction of our property and the work ahead of us. I went outside looked around. I looked up at our horses on the hillside behind us. Two of them were limping around with sore hooves. There was still too much water around our place to bring them down to our property. The fences around the pasture were full of debris and pushed over on their sides. We had no choice but to keep them up there on the hillside.

We had no hay for them because the hay that was in our barn had floated away. Not a single bale was left. We called our neighbor, Margaret, and she happily agreed to feed them hay out of their barn until we could get more hay for them.

I went outside again and looked around and I cried again over the gravity of our situation. I found that I had no heart for this; I had no will to do anything. I was emotionally stuck in the mud, and couldn’t think of where to start and what to do next.

A few minutes later a vehicle pulled into our driveway, and then another pulled in and then another. People were stopping in to find out what they could do to help.

I pulled myself together and started naming off all the things that needed to happen. They all got busy and started working while I walked around in amazement at their initiative and willingness to just jump in and get to work on this mess. I found myself being more of the project manager than a worker. They wouldn’t let me lift a finger - they just wanted to know what to do next, and next and next. My spirits were lifted and I was encouraged by their willingness to help us.

From this point forward I can’t remember very clearly what happened day by day. However, I will try by best to recount what happened and the many people who came to help.

Before I recount the people that came, I must say that every day for the next two weeks my day started off the same - very overwhelmed, no heart to do anything - and then people came and went to work and got me going on getting cleaned up. I was truly experiencing the sign of the times in my own heart that is described in the scriptures when men’s hearts will fail them for fear.

3,000 volunteers from around the area, including full-time missionaries, were sent to our area on Friday and Saturday to help with the cleanup. The Church set up our stake center as a command center and then sent people out from there to go and find people to help.

I remember our son, Dustin, called and was concerned so he took a flight on an Air Force plane to Spokane, and then got a ride from his cousin Melissa over to our area to come and help us. A few days later he finally made it down here with another one of his cousins.

I remember our daughter, Rachel, and my mother-in-law, Vivian, feeling frustrated that they couldn’t get here right away because the freeways were closed for four days following the flood. Once the freeways were opened they were finally able to get here and began helping with the cleanup.

My brother, Mike, and his wife, Cindy, as well as their son, Zachary, all came on the Saturday following the flood to help. They all jumped right in to do whatever they could.

I also remember that first weekend 3 different parties bringing us a load of wood. We were so appreciative of their generosity to us. Many of them traveled from several miles away because they heard through the grapevine that we had lost our firewood.

I remember the owners and people I work with at IBS, Inc putting together a work party for Sunday and Monday and their coming down here to help us clean up. We got a lot of work done while they were here. We got the fences around the pasture upright and stood up again. We brought the horses down to our property. We took the siding off of the carriage house about 6 feet up. There was a lot of mud under the siding. Also this was the first time we attempted to go out to my boat, which was still submerged in the floodwaters, and try to flip it over. My idea was to try and get it flipped over while it was in the water so that I could then float it back onto the trailer. It was pointless. The water was bone-aching cold and the boat was too heavy for us to budge it. I decided that I would need a tow truck to come and take care of this issue.

Ken Smith (bishop) and his son of the Winlock Ward showed up one day. After he arrived he told me he had been at the stake center waiting for an assignment when the Bennight’s name came up as needing help. He said, “I heard your name and raised my hand to go there because your Dad was my wife, Julie’s, bishop when she was a teenager in the Atwater California Ward. She always had fond memories of your dad and your family, so I felt that I needed to come and help you today.” His wife’s maiden name is Garvin. The Garvins were good friends of our family for many years when we lived in California. I was amazed, and grateful that he came to our house to help. Ken also happens to be the mayor of Vader, WA.

I remember the founder of IBS, Inc., Jack Butcher, coming to help. He had no hesitation to get right into the thick of it. We had all of these people working like honeybees in yellow shirts. The yellow tee shirts said “Mormon helping hands.” I observed that the people in the yellow shirts were often speaking to Jack as if he was a member of the Mormon Church. I just wondered how long it would be before he let them know that he was not Mormon. Jack, being an Episcopalian, came out of the basement covered in mud and said, “Hey Jeff, I feel like I need to go get my own tee shirt and put on it ‘Have you hugged an Episcopalian today?’” We laughed while the others overheard and I think it finally connected with them that he was not a member of our Church. Before Jack left for the day he came into the kitchen and said he was going to write me a check. He stated an amount he was about to write it for and I was speechless by his generosity. He told me that I could pay him back whenever I was able, not to worry about it, that he just wanted to help us out. I took his check and put it in my drawer; I have it there just in case we needed it. So far, due to the immense generosity and help from FEMA, we have not needed it enough to cash the check.

I remember a group of women from Duvall, one of them a daughter of our Bishop. Her name was Andrea, and she and her friends all came down to help. When they arrived I hadn’t ever met them before, but they walked right up to me and said, “We are all a bunch of farm girls. We are not afraid of getting dirty. Just tell us what you need done and we will do it.” I thought to myself OK girls, let’s see how willing you are, so I pointed them to the carriage house and asked them to go in there with hammers and start ripping out the sheetrock and the insulation out of the walls. To my amazement they did it for several hours. No hesitation and they got it all out. I was very impressed and grateful for their help.

Angela Barrus of North Bend Washington has been Shereen’s friend for years. They grew up together in Kelowna, BC. She came with her family and friends to help and was so affected by what she saw, she organized a work party to come again two more times, not only to help us, but also to help many others in the community.

Everything we owned in the barn was underwater or had floated away - all of my tools in the garage, hand tools, riding mower, generator, pressure washer, weed eaters, cabinets, everything. The 3 cords of wood that we had cut from a pine tree that fell last winter had floated away, not a stick of it left. The hay we had put up for the horses for the winter, gone. The stalls that I had built in the barn for the horses, wiped out. All of the metal siding around the barn had been ripped off by the waters.

In our basement the insulation had to be removed and carried out. The breaker boxes were completely submerged, but with the help of Tom Lund we got them up and running again 3 days later. The furnace had been completely submerged in water and it was not likely we would be able to get it running again.

Once we got power going again, we were able to fire up the upstairs furnace and heat the 2nd and 3rd floors of our home.

My sister, Connie, and her husband, Tolly, from Woodville, Texas called and were very concerned about our welfare. Connie called back the next day and told me that they had sent us money to help us with cleanup. I was so overcome with gratitude that I was not able to speak much when she told me this. Shereen and I were humbled by their generosity to us.

I remember Tuesday the 11th of December well. Nobody came. I was depressed, discouraged, frustrated over the mess and still didn’t have the heart to work without having someone there to stand by my side and help me. This day made me keenly aware that I needed helping hands to get me going.

However, that was the only day during the 2½ weeks of cleanup that nobody came to help us. My nephew, Kevin, and his friend, Rick, came the next day.

Kevin House, my nephew, called about a week after the flood. He had just returned from a vacation to Hawaii. He had heard about the flood and was concerned about our situation. He and a friend of his by the name of Rick, and my son Dustin, came down a couple of days later and began to help us in the carriage house. We found a lot of dry rot in the carriage house. It seemed that whatever we touched created more work. However, we did get a lot done that day.

Also that day, we had a surprise visit from 2 men from Gig Harbor that we had never met before. I can’t remember their names, but one of the men said that he was a woodworker and that several years ago when a branch of our huge maple tree out front broke off, he was able to get some of that wood and use it. He always remembered the place and the tree, and when he heard that Adna was hit so hard by the flood, he felt they should come and help.

So we obliged them to help and they jumped in and went to work that day, too. When he was about to leave, he said, “If you ever want to get rid of that tree, make sure you call me first.” I have since wondered whether their motive to come and help us was purely based on wanting to help or if they had other agendas as well. Whichever it is, I do appreciate them coming by.

The outpouring of helping hands and generosity was overwhelming. Every day for the following 3 weeks people stopped by with either food, gift cards, money, or their time to help us deal with this tragic disaster.

For two weeks following the flood we were not able to completely pump out all of the water. The groundwater was so high that it continued to flow in through cracks in the concrete on the basement floor. After a couple weeks I went outside and looked into the basement and saw that the water was now gone, leaving about 3-5 inches of sloppy brown mud. I had an idea to call a septic company and ask them if they would be willing to pump out the mud from our basement. One company did not want to do it, but another called me back and said they would be there the next day to take care of it. This turned out to be a great idea. It took a couple of hours of our pushing the mud with brooms and squeegees toward the opening of the basement while the pump truck sucked out the mud. When we were done he said that he had pumped out 400 gallons. This saved us from hours of heavy labor.
Later that day a tow truck finally came to assist me in retrieving our boat and horse trailer from the pasture. The boat and horse trailer were still surrounded by water, and because there was not good access to that spot, it was questionable if they could be reached with the cables.

The tow truck parked in the neighbor’s driveway, as I had previously arranged, and we barely pieced enough cable and chain to reach the boat. It took several hours of maneuvering and pulling the boat before we were able to get the right hold on it and flip it over. It was a complete mess. It was obvious to me that it would be a total loss. We got it pulled out of the water and over to the driveway where I hooked it up to the trailer and towed it back to our house. We then did the same thing with our horse trailer. It was on its side and had a few dents in it, but was still usable.

After they left, the tow company came from COPART to haul off our suburban. It was a complete loss. It was completely full of mud, no way of ever repairing it. This was a pretty heavy day for me to see, again, all of the personal property that was lost.

I called Eric Knight that evening. He works in the heating and air conditioning business and I wanted to have his assessment of our basement furnace. He came over within the hour and looked it over. He was not very optimistic, but he cleaned it out and we gave it a try. To our dismay, the blower fan started right up. He shut it off and instructed me on what to do to clean it out more. Then he came back a few days later and we fire up the blower fan and it ran perfectly. It took a few more trips and I needed to get the heating ducts replaced, but to our surprise, the furnace was working. I believe that if I had not turned off the power when the water was rising in the basement, both our water heater and furnace would have been total losses.

After a couple of weeks of being entrenched in this mess, I finally got enough of my will back to go back to work at IBS, Inc for a couple of days. It was a much needed break, and good to see everyone at the office again. While I was still a bit overwhelmed with it all, I was glad to get away from the mess and think about something else.

On the fourth week following the flood I ordered gravel to be brought in to cover our driveway again and cut down on tracking all the mud into our house. The truck came and dropped off the gravel the very next day. I asked my friend, Dan Maughn, if I could use his bobcat to spread the gravel. He has very happy to lend it to me. He even drove it over from his place to mine at a top speed of 5 mph. While I was in the pasture tending to my horse’s sore hoof, Dan pulled into our driveway in his bobcat. Also right behind him was a small pickup truck with two men it. One of the men got out of the truck and I recognized him immediately. He was a bit puzzled when he saw me, thinking that I must be there helping clean up too. His name is Chuck Hansen. Chuck and I have known each other for about 20 years. He served in the stake presidency of the stake that we use to live in before we moved to Adna. However, we were never in the same ward and he had no idea that we had moved from our previous stake.

When we greeted each other he was dismayed to learn that I was not a volunteer helping, but that I and my family lived here. We were both puzzled about how it was that he happened to show up here at my house.

Chuck shared with me that during their Sunday meetings previous to this day they had been told that there was now a need for skilled labor and that volunteers were needed. So Chuck and Mike, being skilled carpenters, volunteered to come down to our area to help. They were actually called the day before they were to come down and told not to come, I believe because many of us were still trying to dry out our flooded buildings and it was not quite time yet to begin reconstructing. Chuck and Mike felt that they should come down to our area anyway, so on their own volition they drove down to this area. While driving around the area looking for a place where they might be able to help, they saw a man driving a bobcat down Bunker Creek Road. They decided to follow him and see where he was going and maybe there would be someone there that could use their help. So they followed him into our driveway.

This was no accident, this was no coincidence; God had inspired Chuck and Mike to come to our home at the right time to offer their assistance in rebuilding. Chuck and Mike have been back several times, and due to the circumstances of finding us, Chuck Hansen has taken it on as his duty to help us finish reconstruction of the carriage house.

The article that I had read about angels only the day before the flood was starting to come back to me.

I wanted to read the article again. I was preoccupied with the message of the article, because I felt that Shereen and I and our family had been blessed so much by all of the helping hands of our friends, community and ward members. I started to think of them as ministering angels that came to stand by our sides to help us rise above this disaster. I couldn’t find the Ensign for several days, until I did finally find it in my church briefcase. I forgot I had used it to teach a lesson the Sunday before the flood. I read the article, and when I got to the end of it tears welled up in my eyes.

I knew that the Lord had heard our prayers in our time of need, and while I don’t believe that God necessarily caused this flood to happen, I do believe that he was there to support me in my time of need. As it has been said before, I have truly come to know God better through all of the adversities of my life.

In Malachi there is a verse of scripture that speaks of paying tithes and offerings. In this verse the Lord challenges us to have faith in him by saying, “prove me now herewith sayeth the Lord of hosts if I will not pour out a blessing upon you that you will not have room enough to receive it.”

The Lord was truly pouring out blessings upon our family during this period of time. The generosity of his people who came was overwhelming and overflowing. We literally did not have room for all of the food, Christmas presents, tools and gifts that these angels of mercy brought to us during this time. We turned many of the givers away to go and find some other family in need that may have been overlooked.

I have never seen angels from the other side or had any miraculous visions; but I truly believe to the very depths of my soul that I have been ministered to by the angels who walk on this earth, men and women of all walks of life that I have spoken to, hugged and shook hands with, in deep gratitude for their help. I will forever be grateful for all of these ministering angels that my family and I have been surrounded by during our time of need.

It was due to the charity of these angels that I began to get my heart back; my will to keep going. It was about this time that I stopped being a flood victim and started gaining back my initiative to overcome this disaster. Yes it is true that we were affected by the flood, but we are no longer “flood victims” thanks to the ministering angels that God sent to help us. We are engaged in the recovery work on our own now. It is very humbling to know that I could not have overcome this on my own. I needed the helping hands of these ministering angels to carry me through this disaster.

If the answer to the question, “Why did you move here?” is provided now by this event and the things we have experienced since it happened, it has been worth every minute of it. My heart and my life have been forever impacted by its memory.

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