Cleaning house physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Posts tagged ‘disasters’

Teton Dam Collapse – Part 3

This is the continuation of My Disaster Resume, Teton Dam Collapse – Part 1,  and Part 2.

We were truly among the fortunate because we had no property damage, no one we knew was hurt, although several friends lost their houses. Everyone seemed to be OK though. Now I wonder if they were really OK and my perception–as a 25-year old–was completely off base.

My one, inconsequential loss was a warped AeroSmith album. How minor; how trite to even mention it now compared to losses by others. Yet that was the reality of it at the time. For some reason, there was change in the air brought on by the dam collapse. Three friends, including one of my roommates at the time, and I started talking about leaving Idaho Falls.

Several weeks later, the four of us packed up our cars, started our own caravan, and headed to Portland, Oregon. The trip was full of challenges. At one point, the bikes on the bike rack on the back of my car became loose. It apparently was quite the sight for the car following me; bikes bouncing up and down and dipping and twisting. There were no cell phones or way to contact each other, so the driver had to pass me and get me to pull over.

We made it to Portland and stayed with the older sister of my roommate. I now think the move was just something that had to be done, a kind of irrelevant response to the “change.” I stayed in Portland for a month, then drove to Spokane to visit family. At that point, I had no idea what I was going to do. My old work place contacted me and asked me to come back. That was an easy decision as I still had everything backed in my car (including my dog) and no other prospects.

Back in Idaho Falls, I even moved back into the house where I used to live. Went back to the same old job. It was as if nothing changed at all, except a two month vacation.

I ended up moving into the rebuilt house that my friends had lived in. Great little house in the country. I could look out the kitchen window and see the Grand Teton.

Two years later I left Idaho Falls for good. The Teton Dam was long gone; they have never rebuilt it. There continues to be talk about rebuilding it, but still nothing. This is a picture of the what’s left of the site.

My life changed after I left Idaho Falls.  But that will have to be considered for future posts.


Teton Dam Collapse – Part 1

Continuing with my disaster resume, here’s my recollection of the 1976 Teton Dam collapse.

Teton Dam spillway (before collapse)

The Teton Dam was an earthen dam on the Teton River, just a few miles from Newdale, Idaho. The dam was started in 1972 and when done, filling began in October 1975.  A few days before the actual collapse on June, 5, 1976, a small leak appeared.  Authorities worked to stop this supposedly minor leak. But it just got larger and on June 5, the end was near. An incredible series of pictures is located here.

It was a beautiful day in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I shared a house, located on the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls,  with a couple of women. At that time, I was a quality control manager at a potato processing plant in Ririe, a tiny town about 20 miles northeast of Idaho Falls. One of my jobs was to pull sneak inspections, even on weekends. So that sunny morning, I drove to Ririe and did my thing.

Failure of the first half of the dam.

When I got home about noon, both ladies I roomed with were watching TV (the Muppet Show). All of a sudden, the show was interrupted with news of the Teton Dam collapse.  We were glued to the TV because we all had friends in the Rexburg area and wondered what it would all mean. Soon we found out that Rexburg was flooded and the water was going to come into the Snake River with gusto.

By that time, local officials had stopped by and recommended that we consider evacuation due to the potential flooding. So we contacted some friends and started quickly packing stuff. Mostly we loaded up furniture, including a piano. With the help of friends and the fact that we didn’t really have all that much stuff, we were packed up within a few hours.

After getting all that done, the waters had not yet hit the Snake River by us, so we decided to stay where we were and see what was going to happen. Several friends came by and we just hung out watching the river and listening to the news on the radio.

The flooded falls in Idaho Falls

Finally, very early on Sunday morning, things began to happen. We (I and friends) were sitting near the bank of the river just watching debris float by. The river was about 6-8 feet below me, so I wasn’t too worried. All of a sudden there was tremendous noise. We jumped up to see where it was coming from and then looked at the river. YIKES – it was rising incredibly fast; so fast that we scrambled to get away before it overtook us.

Yup, the river breached its bank by our house. Someone ran out to the main street (Yellowstone Highway) and flagged down a sand truck. They came into our area and dumped tons of sand, left us shovels and burlap bags. Guess you know what we did!

The area I lived in was just off the highway and there were only 3 houses back there. The owner of our house lived next door. The other people were out of town. We all sandbagged for hours to keep the water from getting to our houses.

I also had a dog (American Eskimo) who was in the fenced front yard. At one point, someone stopped by and was going to take the dog because they thought she was abandoned. Thankfully I saw them in time so my dog was safe. I then up a sign so it wouldn’t happen again. We were all quite busy sandbagging out back.

Although we successfully sandbagged to protect the homes, local authorities came by later that day and made us evacuate. They wer seriously considering having to blow up the bridge that was just upstream. A lot of debris was building up on the bridge and causing more flooding into the downtown area. By blowing up the debris dam (and part of the bridge), they could reduce the flooding upstream. Of course, blowing up everything would not be good for us.

Sandbagging in downtown Idaho Falls (photo by

We left the area and spent the night with friends. Up at the crack of dawn, we returned to find that they were able to break up the debris without blowing up the bridge. The sandbags held so we were all feeling thankful. And then those darn local authorities showed up again. Water was receding upstream and causing a second wave (pun intended) of flooding downstream. That was us.

Once again, we watched the water and soon noticed it rising again. But we were prepared this time. We were already on the route for sand delivery, so it was just deja vu–shovel sand into bags, give bag to someone else, deposit bag in the best place (where ever that would be at the time).

One more time, the sandbagging held back the flood waters.  Stay tuned for part 2.

Toilet Training the Cats #5

Sunni investigating the small opening

About 9 days ago I opened up the first hole in the CitiKitty tray to introduce the cats to the “toilet” world. That did not go well at all (see the intro here). After about 40 hours, the cats were not using the tray at all and someone (not providing a name to protect the innocent), peed and pooped on the bath rug in the upstairs bathroom.

I was a bit concerned about them not accepting this change and also I was not all that interested in cleaning up, so I decided to replace the cutout. I cleaned up everything and used duct tape to close up the opening. Within 1 minute, MeiMei was up on the toilet and producing a river! After a quick clean up, Sunni did the same thing. Whew, the opening created the problem, and maybe we could get over it.

It took several days before Sunni was convinced that using the toilet again would be OK. After both of them were doing all business in the toilet as desired, I would then consider having a small opening again.

Today was that day. I removed the taped cover for the first hole and taped it back down with just a small opening instead of the original larger opening. Someone has used it a couple of times already this evening. Not sure if Sunni (the cautious one) is involved yet.

Yard sale left-overs

The weekend yard sale was OK; between the two of us, we made a few $$. It was hot (94 F.) and hotter. I guess I’m not a true yard sale person, because I could not understand why people came early (can’t they read the signage that says 9 to 1 ?) and showed up way after 1:00.  But the best was that we both got rid of stuff we didn’t want. Teen girl clothes that did not sell will be taken to the Teen Closet, a local organization to provide clothing to foster children. In the past, I had 3 foster kids, so even today, I recognize this enormous need. The rest of the left-overs will go to another organization.

And to end the day, I must share this photo of my daughter (who did not want her picture taken, thus the cover up. I had forgotten the purchase of the t-shirt shortly after Hurricane Andrew. Apparently my daughter found it and wears it. And she was a survivor, so it’s OK.

Surviving Andrew

Hurricane Andrew Blew Me Away – Part 3

Before I continue with my Hurricane Andrew story, I just want to send my best wishes to residents on the East Coast. You have no idea how much you are in my thoughts these past days, and for the next few days too. Irene, you are not on my Xmas list this year!

And one personal side note. During Andrew, one meteorologist, Bryan Norcross, was on the air forever (I exaggerate only a little). While watching the Weather Channel today to get caught up on Irene, who did I see? I heard him first (Bryan Norcross) and recognised his voice immediately, even after 19 years. I am sure I’m not the only one who is forever in his debt for his supportive coverage during Andrew; and all the years since then, including today.

So, we left off with $$ from the insurance company, but little else. And where to spend the night (and future days) while we plan what to do next. I was extremely fortunate to have such caring friends, who tracked me down and offered to house us for a few days.  Cell phones were not common back in 1992, so how they tracked me down was quite a chore. So we left the dogs overnight in the house (guard dogs, ya know), feed them, and took off to Ft. Lauderdale where friends lived.

There were discussions that evening between husband and me. Basically, it was the perfect opportunity to leave Florida. The house and most of our stuff was gone. We had $$ to start again. And I had always said that I wanted to raise our daughter in a lesser populated area, one with four seasons, not just hot, hotter, hottest, and humid. So we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest, where I was originally from. Whew, decision made and now the planning.

I had worked in the past with this couple, Karen and Frank. They made phone calls to friends and where they worked, and we got a truck and packing boxes. The next morning, we all drove to Homestead and started packing what we could. Living room, dining  room, kitchen stuff (because most of that was in cupboards and thus not damaged), a few clothes that were undamaged (mold has already damaged most of my clothes), and anything else that we could find, were packed and hauled off. The weather was very hot and since there was no running water, we didn’t stay very long; just long enough to pack the big stuff and get out.

The next day, husband and I went back to Homestead and looked for more stuff that could be saved. At one point I had to use a crowbar to break into a dresser. The wood had swollen so much that I could not access the treasures in the drawer. I was able to save all but one of my Northwest Coast Indian art collection; I lost a batik piece that was wet and moldy.

I had some old family memories, such as a family bible from Czechoslovakia, that was too damaged to save. I also lost years of family photos; growing up, college, all sorts of visual memories of great experiences. To this day I miss them, such as my photos of the Teton Dam collapse and Mt. St. Helens. Since I had packed the baby’s clothes when we evacuated Homestead, she only lost her room furnishings. I was a huge Tyco fan and most of the toys were the indestructible plastic that just needed cleaning.

One of the most interesting saves was a ceramic pig full of pennies. This had been stored in an outdoor shed (sometimes called a Florida basement). After Andrew we could not find the shed anywhere in the neighborhood. However, the pig was sitting upright in the back yard without a scratch. The swing set–which had the legs set in concrete–was twisted into pieces. But the legs were solid. My bicycle, which had been stored in the shed, was literally wrapped around one of the swing set legs. And by far the best save was a wedding picture. This was found about a mile away by someone who recognized my sister-in-law (she was in the photo). They gave the picture to her, and she gave it to me. Slightly damaged, but still a remarkable find.

We ended up at the bank in Homestead and closed accounts, grabbed valuables from the safe deposit box, said goodby to our neighbors, and left Homestead for good.

I gave a two-week notice at my work place. We contacted a moving company who came to Karen and Frank’s house and carefully packed everything we were able to save. I had gone through and pulled out stuff we would need when we got to Spokane, such as the baby’s high chair, car seat, stroller, some toys, and dog carriers. Everything else was packed and put in storage until we actually ended up someplace. The unnerving part was we had no idea how long it would be before we could would be in a house again.

Husband also packed up the big dog (Doberman Pinscher), a bunch of baby stuff, and drove to the Pacific Northwest. We both had family in Spokane. He was supposed to find a house to rent, but did not accomplish that task (I was kind of upset about that one). I arranged for the two little dogs (Miniature Pinschers) to fly to Spokane. Then all dogs were placed in a long-term kennel until we got settled.

In the mean time, I was running errands while still working. Getting bank accounts, mortgage, and other things settled. Took car in for service as we were going to drive across the country. I was actually too busy to miss the baby; besides I knew she was in good hands with her aunt and uncle.

Because I still was officially working, I was able to get my husband a stand-by ticket to fly back to Florida. He got home late one night, and we left the next day to get the baby, journey across the country, and start again. Things were already slightly strained between me and husband. Leaving Florida, I even mentioned that now would be the perfect time to get a divorce because we had nothing and thus it would be easier (financially) to split. But we decided to try to work things out. Andrew had placed a great deal of stress on everyone!

So that’s almost the end of the story. We  drove across country for two weeks and ended up in Spokane. Stayed with my brother for 2-3 months until we found a house. Neither one of us had a job yet, so we could only get a house that we could pay cash for. We both found jobs; I have been at the same job for over 18 years. Husband and I separated after 18 months and were later divorced. Hard to be single parent! But I am happy to be in the Pacific Northwest, out of hurricane reach, and my daughter knows what snow is!

After all is said and done, there are still strong memories. I really miss the old photos and other memorabilia that was lost. I do not like the sound of helicopters (they were constantly overhead in the days after Andrew). The smell of mold tends to send a wave of anxiety through my body. And the worst is that all hurricanes since then seem to bring back Andrew memories.  Thank you and good night, Irene.

Fickle Friday #4

Things are crazeeee this week, thus this post will be short.  So here’s what’s happening and why it’s the wacko week.

Yard Sale Am having a yard sale this weekend with a friend. We were going to have it at my house because I have a better location. But she had stuff that would be a pain to move, so I took all my stuff to her house. And then we had to strategically place signage so buyers could find us. Of course, advertised in newspaper, online, and Craigslist. Because I had to work today, my daughter represented me at the sale. They did quite well today, consider it was a Friday. And many buyers (lookers) came by because they saw the signage. Ha – in your face Susan! She was given me a bad time because I didn’t make the signs until late Thursday night. I work better under pressure. Hoping to sell a lot of stuff, mainly because I don’t want to cart it back home. Any $$ will go to my daughter to help with her college education. (Don’t get me started on those financial woes!)

CaTT Update  The cat’s are having some issues with a little hole in their CitiKitty tray. Unfortunately had to revert to no hole. But they are sort of back on track. Heavy on the sort of. Will have to explain more later.

Hurricane Irene  I’ve been blogging about my experience with Hurricane Andrew 19 years ago.  I am obsessed with hurricanes this week and am trying not to watch the news 24 hours a day. Although Irene is currently a Category 2, the potential for surge is looking bad. I am pleasantly surprised at the serious response by the government. Maybe lessons have been learned (dare we hope?). My deepest thoughts and good wishes are going out to those in Irene’s path.  The Red Cross is going to need help with this one.

Karaoke  I just happened to come across Karaoke Battle USA on television while writing this. Hope I have corrected all my typos due to laughing so hard while watching this show. A 49-year-old woman came out with tan tan, bleached blond, hot pink (with sparkles), and — wait for it — black leather pants! She was a pretty good singer, but I just couldn’t take her seriously.  She came close to winning the evening, but was beaten by a stronger voice (thank goodness), who also had a sparkly top.  Then this gorgeous dude comes out and made me “happy.” He is an ex-body builder competitor, though could still compete. Smile that lights up the room. He is currently a massage therapist; said he is excited to be massage therapist. Geez, I’d be excited it he was my massage therapist!  And he is a sexy sensational singer too. He won the night and is going to the semi-finals. I now have to backtrack my laughter; it is not the show, because many of the singers have excellent singing voices. Apparently it is only a few that cracked me up. Hmm… may have to watch this show a few more times.

Hurricane Andrew Blew Me Away – Part 2

To get caught up, you probably should read My Disaster Resume and Hurricane Andrew Blew Me Away – Part 1.

We awaken in Mt. Dora and discover that Homestead, Florida took the brunt of Andrew’s rage. Somehow, husband managed to call (by using a neighbor’s phone that sometimes worked) and reported that it was a disaster (duh!).  Our house was missing chunks of the roof, there was no running water nor electricity. Our 3 dogs were safe, but it was not looking good. We decided that the baby was not going to return to Homestead as it would not be safe for her. And she would basically slow down any recovery efforts wer were going to be able to do.

At that time, I worked for a company associated with the airlines and could receive basically free tickets to anywhere; on standby, of course.  So I found a flight from Orlando that would get us to Washington, DC, where more family lived.  Baby and I left Tuesday afternoon and flew to DC. I got baby situated with her aunt and uncle (and cousins, of course), and flew back to Orlando Wednesday morning.

As I get off the plane in Orlando, I hear my name called. A dear dear friend that I worked with had also evacuated to the Orlando area. He made many phone calls to find out where I was and tracked me down to my flight and the airport. See, it helps to work in the industry! Anyway, it was a tearful reunion for us and he bought me lunch.

I ended up back at Mt. Dora and made some quick plans to get back to Homestead. I filled the car with bottled water, some new clothing (as I did not really pack much when I left Homestead), and some food that did not need refrigeration. The plans were to leave Mt. Dora Thursday morning and drive to some other family’s house at Delray Beach. I would spend the  night there and get an early start Friday morning into Homestead. Apparently there was a lot of looting and I wanted to have maximum time during the daylight hours.

While in Delray Beach, found out that most of other family members were also in bad shape too, with regards to housing. So we made a huge pan of lasagna and I dropped it off at someone’s house Friday morning. This house still had power and was a mini-staging area for several other family members. And then I proceeded down the Turnpike to Homestead.

I started to cry as I’m driving into Homestead. There are no signs or landmarks and many of the roads were still blocked off.  Road blocks were everywhere and you had to show proof of residency. They were trying to keep a lid on the looting, which had been going strong for several days.

A common sight in Homestead

I finally found my house and was floored at what a mess it was. Husband had spray painted the address and insurance company on the front. It was the only way many people found out where they were. I don’t have electronic copies of the pictures or video I took that day, but these pictures pretty much give you the idea.

There was water all over the floor (tiled floor, not carpeted). Husband had swept most of it out before, but it would rain again and since the roof was severely damaged, there was no shelter. We had cathedral ceilings in the dining room and living room. Thus when the roof was damaged and the elements (mostly rain) came, it would slide down the peaked ceiling. The rest of the house had flat ceilings and they were completely collapsed with soggy, moldy insulation. It was gross! And because of the humidity and openness to the outside, mold was rapidly forming everywhere.  To this day, the smell of mold tends to bring back Andrew memories.

I was able to dig through stuff and find our homeowners insurance, which included the policy number. And just in the nick of time. Shortly after I got to our house, the Prudential agent appeared. We kind of wandered around the house. The agent was in tears; I was too shocked to cry and basically just numb. The agent found cracks all around the house, limited roofing, and except for living room and dining room, everything was covered in soggy, moldy insulation from the collapse of the ceilings.

The agent decided that more was destroyed than could be saved. So we  looked at the few items that were salvageable (dining room table and hutch, living room furniture, washing machine and dryer), came up with a price, and he then deducted that cost from the entire total. Basically we ended up with about 95% of replacement costs for everything. The house was considered totalled, so received $$ for that. And then the agent wrote us another check for day-to-day living expenses. After he wrote the check, he looked at it with tears in his eyes, tore it up, doubled the amount and wrote us another check. It was quite obvious that we were the first place he had stopped at while in Homestead. I’m convinced that we probably received a higher payoff than people who he visited in later days. Matter of fact, my sister-in-law’s house suffered more damage than ours, but she had to rebuild. Our house was written off as totalled so we could leave the area.

Florida City, few miles south of Homestead

Four days after the hurricane, we had no livable house, the dogs were freaked, the baby was in Virginia, but we had lots of $$ to pay off the mortgage. But what now? Stay in Florida and find someplace to live? Move elsewhere (out of Florida), but where?  All tough decisions to make when you are completely unresponsive to anything; I was just a robot doing things; husband was the same way. Stay tuned for the decision-making process and how I ended up 3500 miles away from the possibility of hurricanes.

My Disaster Resume

It’s not that my resume is a disaster, as in my previous jobs have been too many and too lame. No, I’m talking about my experience with disasters; floods, volcanoes, hurricanes, and a few close misses.  I am a tad superstitious about my disaster resume (I have a black cat and 13 is my lucky number), so don’t write me off as a nut case until you have read all my disaster posts.

In the past I threatened to send my disaster resume to all residents in southern California and ask for a mere $1 monetary donation to me so I would not become their neighbor. Although I never followed through with that plan, I still sometimes think it is a good idea.  After you have read myt resume, you may think peace of mind is cheap at $1.

Just to pique your interest, here is the short list. I will be expounding on each one in later posts.

Hurricane Andrew

Teton Dam Collapse

Mt. St. Helens Eruption