Anne’s Review: My take from this fluid piece (pun intended) is that my intrepid friend, Cheryl, can turn nasty floodwaters into yummy berry pies. I want her on my ark. May her bilge never again bulge!
Shortly after we moved to our casita in the mountains, Tropical Storm Michael hit the coast of North Carolina. Many of my Houston friends lamented online that, just as we thought we had escaped the horror of the big storms, we had to suffer through another one. Asheville is more than 300 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and by the time Michael arrived, it behaved more like a water sprinkler you might leave in your yard for a toddler to splash around in than a big bad storm. It was basically, by Houston standards, pretty much a nothing here on our patch of ground.
Flooding was not something I worried about in my house on the hill in Asheville. Until I had to. Last week brought us Fred, a storm that was not arriving from the NC coast, but up from the Gulf of Mexico via western Florida. I recognized everything about a gulf-coast storm, as it dropped great torrents of rain onto my tiny patch of real estate all day long. We had some reason to worry as the southeast corner of our basement tended to get a bit soppy with a long run of rain. Rectifying that situation was at the top of our home improvement list, a fix included in the planned building of our addition, which has stalled in bureaucratic mismanagement.
Fred visited and offered up the gift of Poseidon, a deluge of cloud squeezings which saturated the yard and threatened to set us afloat. The bilge of our ship was in grave danger. The bilge is that part of a boat just above the hull where the water comes in, threatening to sink the ship. It also means something useless, such as a leaky basement or a poorly installed roof. My husband and I are quite familiar with the connection between the two definitions. Bilge goes hand in hand with bail. We’ve spent part of our lives dealing with the unruly intrusion of water.
Since we lived many years on the Texas Gulf Coast, our familiarity with storms is on a first name basis. Allison, Ike, Rita, Harvey to name a few of the memorable personalities. Yet it was an unnamed onslaught of water which introduced us to the concept of bailing out the bilge. A storm passed through our Houston neighborhood and made a Venice-like canal between the east side of our house and the west side of our neighbors’ garage. It grew in depth until it breached the bilge of our life raft and flooded four rooms of our house, two of which had carpet.
Luckily for us, after the storm passed, the water quietly receded, leaving sopping rugs and questionable drywall. After we moved all the furniture to a safer location, we had to use pliers and other mechanical devices to rip up the wall-to-wall carpeting from its floor attachment. Towels were then deployed to suck up the residual moisture saturating the concrete of the foundation. We had to wrestle those towels into giving up their bounty with strong-armed wringing into makeshift pails—our favorite is a big cooler (but remembering to close the cooler’s drain plug is the key to successful bailing, otherwise it seems like you are getting nowhere.)
There was an intimate quality about laying bare the foundation of the house, like removing all the makeup from an elderly relative and stripping them down to their skivvies. The rooms looked raw and vulnerable. We cranked up the air conditioning and dragged out the fans in an attempt to ward off mold and mildew—the evil offspring of floodwaters.
Once everything was dry, we were determined to make things dressed up and pretty once more, but most importantly make sure it didn’t happen again. The drywall was saved as only the bottom edges were wet and they dried nicely without any bulges or buckling. We eventually jacked up the piers under the southeast corner of our foundation by two inches and installed new carpeting.
We hired a landscape architect to relieve our yard of flooding. A system of drains was dug along the foundation, allowing any flood water to flow off out into the street. Our neighbors did much the same to alleviate the potential Olympic-sized pool between our houses. We weathered many storms with this setup. Then came Hurricane Harvey. Our house survived the Harvey flood because of the diligent ditch digging of my husband when our front yard was not draining into the street. When the streets flooded and the electricity went out, we abandoned ship, hoping the hull would hold, and evacuated to our friends’ house for a long and worrisome week. Though we had to wade through disgusting flood water to get back to our home, everything survived intact. No bilge waters.
When we moved to the mountains, we believed our bailing days were over. We bought a house in a neighborhood on a hill, far from the French Broad River. After a few incidences of towel-able water seepage, we began to strategize a way to keep our basement bilge dry as a teetotaler. It was decided that professional help was our best bet. Since we were already in the process of planning an addition to that weepy corner of our abode, we put foundation protection as our first priority. Before we could even get an estimate for that plan, Tropical Storm Fred arrived to kick us in the bilge.
One feature of our new house we particularly liked was the basement door leading to the back yard. The stairs down to that door are concrete and there’s a drain at the bottom, just outside the door. Good, we thought, water won’t seep in through this back door. In actuality, that drain goes nowhere. On a sprinkly day, drops of water pass through the drain into the dirt below the concrete. During a typhoon, it simply pools up under the concrete until it overflows into the stairwell with nowhere to go but into our basement and over the floors until it finds a low spot to settle in as it grows in depth.
I am often flummoxed by the designs of those who have come before me. Placing a drain in the stairwell was a good idea with really poor execution. The concept of execution passed through my mind, but whoever generated this shitty plan of drainage in 1945 was most likely already long dead. During the Fred deluge of rain, I cursed their rotting bodies as my husband sucked up water into the shop vac and I, disgusted to the core, wrung out heavy water-laden towels into our largest cooler. How could this be happening again?
We had to strategically move things, put some boxes on top of sturdier boxes in order to save them from destruction and to follow the path of water to make sure we found every drop. Not touting my superhero skills here, but, as a means of emotional support for the flood-weary Hobbit House crew, I also managed to bake a four-berry pie in between squeezing towels and redeploying them over the soggy bits of basement floor. As the rain eased up, my man grabbed the shop vac to suck up the worst of the drench and then set up fans to air dry areas of the damp concrete floor. I maintained an intense focus on the tv weather reporting until it seemed that Fred had finally moved on to soak greener pastures.
The battle is over. We’ve weathered the storm. Our ship is still sea worthy—though I’d really rather think of it as a house, on a hill, far from the river. We learned the general trajectory that free-flowing water will take upon entering through our basement door and what needs to be added to our home improvement list. We wait for clear skies while all the building permit red tape gets untangled. In the meantime, there’s pie.
Guest Editor Anne has the right stuff to edit my minor disaster stories. She carefully waded through the flotsam and jetsam of flood-related sentences and then demanded to know what kind of pie I made!