Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Storm, Thunder; Basement, Flood"

(Update: apologies to the feed-readers, I keep findin' spelling and punctuation errors to fix).

And so it did -- but not merely a flood, never so easy as that.

But let me start at the beginning; the sun set Friday with a more than certain chance of thunderstorms, high winds and heavy rains. It being the week between paychecks for me (and the weeks between for Miss Tam, her various ventures paying off less frequently than my fixing of stardrives), I'd made a quick run to Thai Cafe Broadripple for tasty, affordable dinner (btw, go there if you're in town, the food is wondrous and the owner's One Of Us) and got back not too long before the rain.

And what a storm! The sky strobed, lit more often than dark; the rain absolutely roared down in solid walls of water, shaking the ground, the street and then the sidewalk flooded and ran with a visible current; it poured, the lights flicker and steadied, the rain would slacken and resume, the wind sent the trees cage-dancing on their roots, tossed their limbs, the lights dimmed... And eventually, it slowed and we stopped standing on the front porch, gawping at the Nature's Wonders like goldfish.

I thought about the laundry I hadn't done and it ocurred to me to wonder how much water was in the basement. It does leak a bit, especially after heavy rainfall. Clomp through the house, basement door, not smellin' so nice, do I hear water drippin', lightswitch, click-- Oh, my.

A puddle of thick, vile-scented, grey-brown goop fills the center of the floor; over against the wall, the old, square laundry sink is brim-full of nastiness and dripping over, the red wool blanket I'd folded there soaked grey; clear water is running in from at least one far corner. The rain has stopped but the sewer backup isn't stopping.

Tam and I rescued the few things that were in danger of being flooded out and moved others farther away. I looked around for bleach, found none and made An Executive Decision.

Note to self: ease up on the Executive Decisions, especially after a long and stressful day.

"I'll get over the the 24-Hour Supermarket and pick up some bleach'n'stuff so we can at least disinfect this awfulness some," I announce.
"Is that a good idea?" Tam asks; she'll have cause to remind me of this query later but will refrain.
"Sure. Storm's over, it's not that far."

...So I hop into the Hot Needle Of Inquiry II, brolly in hand and a bigger flashlight than usual in my purse, and trundle myself off storewards. H'mm. Lotta limbs down. Out onto the major street -- a way lot of limbs down. Standin' water along the curbs here, better check the radio, tune, fumble... The car slows. And there are splashy noises.

Miss Alert peers out at the vast puddle covering the street, decides she's past the halfway point and keeps goin'. The car staggers a bit and lurches out. This would have been a good place to stop, but did I?

Oh, hells no. Excelsior! I muddle through. And thus another half mile, another deeply flooded section of road upon which I realize about a third of the way in I Am A Gone Goose, downshift, laboriously chug my way forward to a parking lot, out and up among a handful of other cars at an awkward angle, stopped by one of those concrete parking-space stoppers that must have been shifted in a heavy current.

It's high (but not dry) now and I'm blocking any other dizzy optimists seeking relief, so after a quick call home to admit to being stuck ("The lights just went out," Tam reports, "and I have got to get some sleep if I'm going to work the gun show tomorrow."), I hop out, squat inelegantly down, and manage to lug the heavy thing over far enough to get my little car past to a higher spot and leave room for others. It starts to rain again and I end up thoroughly soaked. I grab my umbrella withal and take a quite look around. Strolling towards the back of the building I found myself in front of and past yet another strandee, the driver asks out her open window, "Y'okay?"

"Yep. I'm lookin' to see if there's a way down to the big parkin' lot," I say

"I drove over that way but I couldn't tell, the water is so high."

I walked on over and read a pull-out in the lay of the blacktop. Sure enough, the new waters were lapping along the very edge of the lot. The crown of the street is under water and there's a discernible current. The flashlight reveals at least two feet of very clear water at the lot exit and I'm not eager to check for depth with my hand.

Walked back by the friendly motorist, telling her, "There's an exit but the water's way high." Got back to my car and looked in the direction I'd been headin'. That river part of tthe street runs for at least another block and folks on the patio of a bar across the way are cheerin' at SUVs that attempt the fording; most give up and pull off to higher parking lots on each side, accompanied by derisive laughter. A couple of blocks away, the Steak'N'Shake is all lit up and, soaked as I am, looks inviting. Back the way I'd come, the water over the road is even higher and a couple of sedans are halted right out in it, blinkers on and faint mists of steam rising. Looks like it's going to be a long, wet slog if I'm to sleep in my own bed tonight.

Might as well have a cuppa' first. The rain's been alternating drizzle and serious stuff but lightning flashes to the North and West are promising another go-round. I set my course and slog out, though parking lots and along high grassy berms.

A couple of cups of coffee, an investigation of the games I'd never noticed before on my celphone and ninety minutes later, another bit of storm has come and gone, this one with beautifully limned lightning strikes out the diner's big windows. They'd be prettier without the lights and compressors dimmin' an' slowing each time, I think. Paid my bill and headed out. Every few minutes, a fire truck or ambulance or police car goes screaming and blinking up the cross street; I notice it but don't think much of it. These things happen when it storms.

Squishing back to my car, a guy wades over from the bar, retrieves a bicycle leaned against the fence and carries it past me, sayin' "Some weather, lady!" as he goes by. Yeah, some weather all right.

I checked the exit I'd scouted earlier. That street's mostly clear now, maybe a foot of water at the gutters, looks clear down into the big lot and out to the cross street. The way I came in is still flooded, deep. Told my friend, who opts to stay put. Got back into my car and tried.

Made it, car's not too happy, out onto the cross street and it's not got much power; I'm not going to try for the supermarket. Another fire truck clangs by as I get out of the way; up a half-mile, there's a lot of red blue and white lights. Closer still, an IMPD cruiser sits across the road, tired-lookin' officer waving me to turn aside; I pull a U through a scary-deep patch of water and head back. Car's smellin' funny and has even less power. Uh-oh.

Into a different bar's lot, pop the hood. Huh. No smell, nothing too much out of place. Sat and thought, started up and headed back to the street I came across on. Turned onto it, then into the parking lot across from where I had been, parked. Water's a lot lower, still too high, but it looks as if on this side I can bypass it through connected parking lots, braving only one short, shallow bit. There's still the new-made pond farther down the road, but hey, I'd be that much closer to home and the car seems a bit happier. Maybe.

Got back in and tried, made it, bypassed the deeps (which had by then taken a third victim and those cars are gonna need drained out after). My car's still pretty puny and I don't push it. Stop sign. The next puddle. Stopped. Looked. Thought. --Damage, if any, is done; so I chanced and won through (much shallower now) and only had to dodge a cover of fallen limbs the rest of the way home.

Lights still out. Had to park in back and walk around, came in the front door, "Tam, it's me."
"Whazza? Oh, okayyyyyzzezzzzz," and back asleep.
I stumbled off to my own bed and fell like a bat into a cave, stirring not and oblivious until I woke to sounds of sudden motion and a semi-stifled "Shsssst!" from the next room. Looked at the clock, nothing. Power's still off. Checked my wristwatch: Tam had about a half-hour to get civilized and get to the gun show, I thought, and fell back to sleep.

* * * * * * * *

Tam woke me on her way out and together we got the garage door open (easier than we expected). I got cleaned up hastily and headed out to the store (remember the basement? I checked. The yeggggh level is down but what's left behind is.... Shuddersome). Power still out.

And still out around the neighborhood. Including traffic lights. Ah, but my car is running better.

I got honked at and nearly rear-ended by a genius who has figured out that when the stoplights are out, she has the right-of-way. Er, no. A unlit stoplight is a four-way stop. Always. Whenever. And this particular hand-gesture is, I believe, widely known and well-understood here in the States, ya witling.

Funny, she seemed to do the right thing at the next light, perhaps because I managed it somewhat obviously. Yes, what a triumph, I have successfully manipulated an idiot! Well, it's the small things that we cherish, no?

Karma's stone mean: my neighborhood supermarket is also clean out of Mr. Tesla's electric fluid an' has a biggo CLOSED Sorry sign on the door. Onward to the 24-Hour Wondermart, dark lights all the way but -- Wondermart indeed! -- they have not been disAMORCed. (A genny? Yes, says the checker, but it's not running). Bleach, buckets and this and that later, I made my way back home, still dodging downed limbs. Really shoulda bought vinegar, too.

Three hours of sloshing, mopping, carrying, feeling dizzy and goin' for air, over and and over again, the basement floor has been mostly mopped down with 25% bleach water, the semi-solids picked up, its been rinsed and washed down with 10% vinegar water and the power is still out. I can't tell if the pilot's lit on the water heater or not; it shuts off the gas if it goes out. Even with windows, it's dark down there.

Gave up on the gun show and took a nap. The lights came back on once and went out, came back on again an hour later and that was an hour ago. They've gone out once while I was writing, for a minute or so. Power & Light says, "Don't count on havin' power for sure 'til late Monday. " They had 70K users down after the storm went through and have about half of them -- the easy half -- back on. One of my neighbors up the alley has their power drop down with most of a tree on it; that was probably what caused the first up-and-down when P&L got our part of the grid back up but I have not gone back to look. Sirens still wail in the distance every couple of minutes.

P.S.: As I was mopping up, well, let's not think about just what, I found a half-full gallon container of bleach tucked into a dark corner. Oh yeah.

So that's how my weekend's gone. How's yours?


Turk Turon said...

Wow! What an ordeal!

I'm glad you're both OK.

It sounds like the storm sewers overflowed into the sanitary sewer, causing the latter to rise. Ugh.

Although, ending on a positive note, your story was a great read and I loved your description of the storm: "...trees shook like cage dancers." Did you watch "Hullabaloo" too?

Roberta X said...

Hullabaloo? Before my time, I think.

Yep, Indy's got combined sewers and under the exact wrong conditions, things get way ugly. There is still a lot to do in the basement; I have to empty my shelve's o' junk, move them, mop there they were, and so on. I want to get the basement semi-dried out first.

Jerry in Texas said...

Good grief. We got off easy here in Boone County. Hope the flooding subsides and stays dry for you.

Frank W. James said...

I think you got far more rain than we did up north. Even so fields are 'ponded' and we will have to see how fast the water gets away before putting the planters away for the season.

As for the gunshow, I wanted to go, but had too many I'd ignored over the past three weeks that really needed paying bills and writing my SGN column for instance.

Hope your basement dries out quickly and there is no financial loss.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Roberta X said...

I'm not sure what may have taken on water -- there was at least one spot in the basemant walls where a small stream of (thank heavens) groundwater was shooting into the basement and some things may have been sprayed in hidden spots. I am reluctant to go look right now, too tired.

Buying a generator has moved way up on my list -- the contents of the fridge are a total loss except for some bottled beverages. It would have been nice to have had the dehumidifier running sooner, too. I'm also going to have to buy more concrete blocks, get the shelves up off the floor.

My toolbox-holder shelving unit is a goner, it sits right on the floor. Holds the Gerstner, a no-name and has a big drawer in the middle with all my planes. Darn, darn, darn.

Right now, I wanna just crawl in bed and sleep 'til it's all better. I have a ton of laundry to do and I have not looked in washing machine since early last night.

Anonymous said...

Dang. That's a hell of a story. Glad to hear it wasn't worse, especially after reading the news about the tornado in Indianapolis.

Hope your planes don't get rusty. Do you use anything like Boeshield on the soles and irons?

Anonymous said...

Ouch. We had 16 inches of water in our basement. I got books off of the bottom shelves, but our generator was under water before I could get to it. We never lost power, but had 1/2 a tree go down across the drive and take out the line to the security light. We probably lost a lot in the basement and garage. We're slowly drying and checking everything.

I'm glad you made it home. Always remember, you're alive and nothing that can't be replaced has been lost. There is always something for which to be thankful.

Anonymous said...


::checks brain for clever comment::

Nope. Got nothin'. Just...



Turk Turon said...

My neighborhood has a similar sewer problem. The city will install free flapper valves in flood-prone areas. Mostly good for basement floor drains.

Might be worth looking into.

Anonymous said...

My, Roberta! Quite an "adventure!"
I do hope everything drys out for you with as little damage as possible. I live in San Antonio, where it doesn't rain anymore so we don't have floods.
Although when it did still rain, you could depend on the Fire Department having to go out in it to pull some folks out of the water, usually the ones who went around the barricades that say "Stop!! High Water!" The FD has made these same folks start paying for the rescues, though.

Been thinking of getting one of those portable power supplies or maybe a super quiet generator. I live an in apartment complex, I am not sure how well either one would work.

Anonymous said...

joseph, I have seen mentioned, but don't remember where, emergency power supplies that are like a bigger version of the UPS units you can buy for your home computer. Handy, and will keep a small number of lights burning for quite a while, but can get heavy, depending on the watt/hour rating.

My main question with a generator in an apartment complex is whether the management allows storage of combustibles -- I've seen lease agreements prohibiting this. JMHO, if were thinking along these lines, I'd consider a propane powered unit. Especially if you already have a propane grill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info. I did not thing of the fuel storage aspect of things. Certainly I wouldn't keep it(gas) in the apartment. I am not so worried about lights (I have plenty of flashlights and batteries) but my GF has health issues and it might be good to have at least a limited amount of stored power on hand.

Roberta X said...

Stored power: Look into 12-volt thingies, as you already own a (semi) portable source of same and a gas-powered charger for it already. (This makes my little late-night road trip look all the dumber, doesn't it?) I don't know if a car makes a suitable charge for a sealed gel-cel type storage battery but it's worth looking into.

Power outages are one reason why I favor gas cookers and water heaters, own both a Chemex and a vacuumatic stovetop coffeepots and why I (usually but, alas, not recently) keep a big sealed bag of ice in my freezer.

Dean Ing's "The Chernobyl Syndrome" is a useful book of tips for coping with various urban challenges, up to and including your local fisson reactor goin' oopsie; I think the flashy title did it a disservice.

(This reminds me that one of the state universities in Missouri runs at their various campuses, or at least they used to, a series of student-operated "swimming pool" type reactors, with large enough tanks they they're inherently safe. How cool is that!)

Roberta X said...

PS, Jed, I use beeswax and a little oil on the planes but mostly I keep 'em dry. In this case, the sides of the little shelf/stand have wicked up icky water. I may just be able to saw 'em off, I dunno.

Anonymous said...

look into a honda tri fuel generator I have been thinking about one for some time. I am thinking you would have the know how to conect to your breaker box how cool would that be ? As I undrestand it one has to isolate the house while using the gen to keep from sending power to outside lines. Glad you survived your adventure stay safe.

Roberta X said...

know several ways to connect a genset to my breaker box -- but Stage One would be a small one and an extension cord distribution system. It's safer amd simpler.

The best way to connect in a generator is to get one with split 240V output and use a transfer switch ahead of the panelboard/breaker box. This requires yanking the meter, since you cannot do it hot. Good sense (and many local codes) will require a new main breaker between the meter and the transfer switch, too. It's slick and easy to use once it is installed. Manual transfer switches can be almost afforable.

The most common wrong way is to turn off the main breaker and then use a "suicide" cord (male connectors on both ends) to backfeed half (if you have a 120V gen) or all (if you have a 240V one and a handy dryer or range receptacle) of your house electrical system.
This can kill you (or others), damage your toys or worse; the most common fatal mistake is not switching off the main breakers, which endangers workers down the line now and you and your genney when power comes back on. The "suicide cable" is also a potential (ha!) source of problems.
Feeding half your electrical system is also rife with fail unless you know what you're about and which loads are on what side.

--And I will caution readers: I am not a bigtime pro electrician; this is talk, not advice. Get expert advice and understand what you are doing! Typical North American 120-0-120/split 240 residental systems can be baffling at first sight and can do unexpected things when operated abnormally. It is not forgiving. More people are electrocuted by house current than any other voltage in the electrical distribution system.

Outside NA, residential electrical systems vary widely; be sure you know what you've got!

It is better to light a candle than win a Darwin Award.

phlegmfatale said...

good googly moogly!

I'm glad you got everything squared away safely. What an exhausting adventure, though.

Turk Turon said...

That's what I've got: a little 1100-watt gasoline generator that outputs 110 AC (pure sine wave) and 12 DC. That, with an extension cord and some 12-v batteries, will make life more comfortable. But in cold weather I'm no better off because my (gas) furnace has a 220-v fan. And the next step up, as you said, involves transfer switches, etc. so it's quite a large step up, requiring professional installation.

Tripp-Lite makes some great 20-amp household UPS systems, with generator auto-start, genlock, etc. A small system would power the furnace/AC and the kitchen outlets. With enough batteries, you could stay reasonably comfortable for a long time.

Chuck Pergiel said...

Your story took me back. Way back. Prompted me to write down an old story. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great googly-moogly. I tend to bitch about the local power grid with it's less-than-pristine output and more than occasional summer blackouts, but at least when it does go down there's enough backup juice to keep some servers running (usually) long enough, and there's no concurrent worry about finding scuba tanks on short notice!

Glad everyone is safe. If you'll pardon me, I'm going to go look around the uphill side of the house to see if there isn't anything more to do to make sure runoff from the coming monsoons doesn't decide that through our living room is the best way to go from high ground to canyon floor. Our yearly march of the scorpions/centipedes would not be enhanced with more water.

Kevin said...

I love living in the desert. All we get is heat, and the occasional spectacular thunderstorm.

No basements.

Rob K said...

I'm glad you're safe. I can sympathize with the basement. In Jan 2007, I woke up one Saturday morning to the basement 5 or 6 feet deep in water. The sump pump had died. It took a week and a pair of chest waders to finally get it all pumped out. That water was cold.

Anonymous said...


The WD in WD-40 stands for "water displacing". Give the planes a good spray (try to keep it off the handles, though.) Then give them a thorough clean/polish when you have the time.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing bunch of folks!!

I generally read Roberta's blog for the humor. But there are a lot of knowledgeable people who are reading this too...I never cease to learn something.

There is no way I would try to hook a generator into home wiring, I just don't know enough...but at least I know that much!!

I spent a couple of rotations on a burn unit, saw some folks that were badly burned by electricity; some didn't survive. Electricity is like fire, a wonderful servant but an unforgiving master.

Anonymous said...

One more...let's not forget the electrical crews who are out in these messes repairing the grid. They do a great job!! We take electrical power for granted, but there are a lot of people who leave home in times like these to get the power back up.

Anonymous said...

A suggestion:

LBJ said...

Thought about you too when it hit. Out here, just some limbs down but thankfully no flooding in my little burg, just one little funnel, some high winds and major rain.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)