It was February of 1986. My daughter, my boyfriend and myself lived in a cabin by the Russian
River in Gurneville, California. My boyfriend and I were students at the local college, he in computer
technology, myself in anthropology. My daughter had just turned 3 yrs old.
It had been raining hard
for days. We bought a large and difficult jigsaw puzzle to keep us busy inside for a few days as rain
was forcast for several more days...... As it turned out, as my boyfriend, Ken, was returning from
classes in the evening, about 6:00pm, he was one of the last people through on the road to our
town, it was closed due to flooding almost right behind him. He'd driven through a foot or more of
standing water in a few places. We started on our puzzle, the lights went out, we lit an oil lamp and
a few candles and kept working on our puzzle. By about midnight, informed by neighbors that the
river was rising fast, we periodically went out to check the water level. "
While it was indeed rising,
we, ourselves were in no immenent danger... Just in case we started putting up plywood "shelves"
attached to the molding near the ceiling and loading as much of our belongings as we could onto the
By morning most of our food, clothing, books and boxes of photos and various odds and ends were up on the shelves, even a few chairs and other lightweight pieces of furnature. When the sun rose we were astounded at how very far the river had risen. We helped a couple of our immediate nieghbors who lived a little lower evacuate their houses. By this time there was no water so we were bringing in buckets from our landlord's swimming pool for the toilet and to use for cooking on our camping stove. The river rose very fast over that day. Ken and I took turns going out in our canoe with our old climbing ropes (still good ropes but not good enough to trust hanging from 150 feet up a rock face). One of us would be out helping to rescue stranded people while the other was home keeping Joelene (my daughter) happy and entertained. We rescued dozens of people between the two of us, helped to tie up one cabin that the river was trying to take away (we roped it onto several Redwood trees nearby), and had put up a walk-along rope across one road where the water was still only a couple of feet deep but was rushing fast enough that one needed to hold on to something to keep from being swept away.
A lot of coffee later, as evening set in, we were still at it, taking turns going out. The river was far past our cabin, but because we were built on a slight rise we were sort of on an island. Only the first step to our porch was under water. While Ken was out I realized that one of my nieghbors who lived on the same "island" but lower, was still home. She was a single mom with a newborn and of very low mental capcity, just short of not being allowed to actually live by herself. I went down there and found that water was coming in the windows. She and her daughter were on the bed surrounded by water and bags of clothing. I heard a motor outside and found it to belong to a sherrif's truck. I went to them and told them about my neighbor who was refusing to leave as here house filled with water. They helped me evacuate her and her daughter and a few vital belongings. Then they turned to me and asked who lived in the cabin at the top of the rise with the door open and oil lamps lit. I said "me, my boyfriend and my daughter". They asked where Ken was and I told them he was taking his turn out rescuing people. They said that was great, they knew about us, but didn't realize that we ourselves lived in what was by then the middle of the river. They evacuated my daughter and myself. I left a note on the counter. Ken and I didn't find each other until early the next morning. My daughter and I ended up helping to unload the boats that were coming in with supplies taken from the nearby Safeway store that was itself flooded.
Several boats were rowing down the isles taking necessary items for those of us stranded at the church (a temporary Red Cross center). Every time a boat went to return to the store they took "shopping lists" with things like tampons, diapers, bottled juices, canned foods etc. on the lists. That night we slept in the back of my small Datsun station wagon that we had had the presence of mind to park very high on a hill when the water started to rise. It was cramped but dry. When I awoke early the next morning a man from the house we were parked in front of invited us to breakfast he and his wife were cooking on their campstove. It was a far superior meal to what we would have gotten at the church. By then they were preparing to load the last helicopter out of town. Because we had Joelene we chose to leave. We were sent to an evacuation center in a nearby town. Most of the roads were flooded so we couldn't even go stay with friends or family, we were now stranded at the main evacuation center. We helped out there unloading boxes, inventorying donations, keeping hundreds of kids occupied and hopefully not too terribly frightened. My mom found out we were OK when she saw us on the news. Some camera person had thought it a wonderful picure of me and my daughter early one morning drinking cocoa as I showed her a front page aerial photo of our town taken the previous night. I was showing her the two Redwoods next to our cabin (very distinctive) and our roof right next to them. I had no idea how full our home was with water, but at least it was still there. Many of our nieghbor's homes were not, including the one we'd tied to the trees.
I eventually found some friends who could take Joelene while Ken and I went back to Gurneville. We hitchiked and got a ride with the first federal disaster assessor on his way in. we just chatted for awhile but as we got closer "Oh my God" was all he said as he saw clothing and other personal belongings stranded on telephone wires and realized just how high the water had been. Soon there was silence, he was saying nothing, just staring out the window with a dropped jaw. When we got to town he asked us if we had any idea where to begin. We said to close his eyes, turn ion circles and just start in whatever direction he was pointing when he opened his eyes. When we saw him later he said that was exactly what he had done. We went with trepidation back to our cabin.turned out the water had risen to about 1/4" below our floorboards. There was silt across the porch, but none inside. Our partially finished puzzle lay just as we'd left it on the table.
Because of that little rise we were some of the very few so close to the river who'd not lost anything. We spent the next weeks helping our nieghbors who had lost virtually everything. We drove and walked the entire length of the river looking for parts of houses. We found one nieghbor's house lodged in the backyard of another house, almost intact, just not where it was suppose to be and at an odd angle. We found pieces of others and informed the owners just where. That house we'd tied to the trees we never even found a single piece of. By then we figured it was well on it's way to Japan. If I can find my copy I'm afraid we were so busy that I don't have much in the way of articles or other stuff. All I personally have is the T-shirt I was evacuated in which says, appropriately "
Some people have one of those days, I'm having one of those lives", and I have a small aphgan that was given to my daughter at the shelter. I was interviwed by the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, and I seem to remember that they misquoted me and spelled my daughter's name wrong, if that is of any help. If I can find my copy of that infamous aerial photo I will photo copy it and circle my roof. If you have access to U.S. national news footage about that flood you can easily identify that part of me and Joelene where I found our roof. Other than that, we just have a memory that makes a good story and my daughter still gets to brag about having ridden in one of those "really cool huge helicopters the army uses".