Sunday, August 2, 2009

All because we wanted to see the temple site...

Wow. What a day. This has been one of those days that I couldn't wait to get home and post about it. Today was supposed to be our nephew's baby blessing. We decided to go through Philadelphia on our way to New Jersey so we could stop by the temple site and see if there has been any changes. It was raining through our little town and we marveled at the water rushing over the sidewalk at one intersection, and commented that the highway should be much better and not have as much standing water. The radio told us there were flash flood warnings.

Along the turnpike I noticed water pouring down the cliff in some places next to the road and commented on how that was kind of scary and how I hoped rocks and branches didn't wash down or anything. The traffic was pretty slow, and we only drove a few miles before it slowed down completely, all the way to a dead stop. The rain was coming down so hard and we could barely see what was happening outside.

I'm not sure how long we sat there. It must have been 5 or 10 minutes. We watched the water rushing down the shoulder past us. The entire shoulder was covered. We noticed that the water on the road seemed to be a couple of inches deep. Right about then, we looked up in front of us and saw a huge rush of water coming onto the highway and a mudslide. It must have been blocked from our view by cars until then, or the rain was just so heavy we couldn't see it. About this time, we realized that there were only a few cars in front of us. The reason we were stopped was because the entire two lanes had turned into a lake, and cars had been trying to make it through before the water got too high. There was only one car in the other lane in front of us. He tried at first to back up. By this point the water was up to the bottoms of the doors. A few cars backed up to give him room, but the water was still rising. He made a break for it, and we watched as he completely lost traction and just started floating. I was on the phone with my mom at this point and described in shock as I watched this car float around. Then, two cars in front of us, the people were getting out of their car. A woman was holding a crying toddler and it looked like her mother was with her. The water was past their knees and they were going to find higher ground. We were pretty freaked out at this point. We couldn't open our doors without water rushing in. The floating car got enough traction to back up and he went up the shoulder. Some other cars managed to turn around too. We couldn't really go backwards, but luckily some people got out of their cars behind us and directed to people to back up. We were able to back up and around until we located some unflooded asphalt and could get onto that. The other car in front of us and the one next to us were in the worst of it as well, and they were also able to back up. Finally there was just one big SUV left, who had actually been behind us, but the owner had gotten out to help direct people, and we found out later that they had let the poor flooded people take shelter in their vehicle.
This was after we backed up around that Yukon and as far back as we could go. The water kept rising and those two cars had to back up even more. Finally, we stopped worrying when the water reached the level of the concrete barriers (four-foot tall barriers, too!), because we knew the water wouldn't rise towards us any more. You can kind of see the rush of water on the right side where the mudslide was.
I got out when the rain slowed down and took a picture of the other side of the road. They eventually were flooded out too and no one was getting through. A car got stuck on that side as well, but we saw it finally get through later once the police were there. The car on our side had to be towed.

The rescue workers came! It felt like it took awhile. Turns out there was flooding everywhere. I read on a news report that we got 2.5-4 inches of rain in an hour, and they commented that that's a normal rainfall for a month.

This was our bright point. Katrina happily sat there for three hours while we were stuck. She ate her food, drank her water, and wasn't bothered at all. That in itself is miraculous.

We often got out to stretch our legs and try to figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, all of the rescue vehicles came and parked right in front of us and we had little idea of what was going on.
The rain picked back up sometimes (there's Adam in his trench coat), but it never was as strong. Everyone behind us was trekking up to the front to try to see what was going on. I was one of the few people to trek backwards, because we noticed a tour bus a few cars back and I had to go ask to use their bathroom. I stuck my belly out a lot to emphasize my pregnancy just in case they weren't sympathetic, but the driver was very nice! All the old ladies interrogated me, but honestly, since they were in a bus and higher on the incline, they had a much better view of the whole thing. We were right in front and so clueless.

They eventually put up caution tape because of all the people looking on and getting in their way.

Whoo-hoo! All the rescue vehicles clearing up, and the smoke is from flares. That Yukon in front was stuffed with the luggage of the car that got towed.

I tried to grab some pictures as we finally got to drive away. You can see how muddy the road was. The big delay was clearing off the debris, and I think they had to remove a barrier to drain the water. Until we drove through the remnants, we had no idea how far the lake extended. It was about a quarter of a mile.

Then my phone died, right as we were driving past the mudslide and I was trying to take a picture. The traffic on the other side of the road was backed up for six miles. Most of them were outside their cars and cheered and waved as they saw us go past. We happily drove along on dry road, thinking we were clear, until bam, a huge puddle came out of nowhere. There was a pipe spilling water out of a wall and then suddenly we were hydroplaning through a huge puddle with water rushing over the roof of the car. That was pretty scary. And we think that's where we lost our hubcap. Oh well. That seems to be the worst damage. Adam looked at the debris trail on our car once we had backed up to the drier asphalt and he said it came up to the bottom of the headlights, which is about the tops of the tires and the middle of our doors. It was definitely really scary.
So we missed church this week, but they rescheduled the blessing for next week! Oh, and we stopped by the temple site after all. Nothing exciting. It still is a parking lot next to some ugly buildings. But at least we got a memorable adventure out of the trip!


Tasha's Life said...

Wow! Crazy!! I'm glad you documented and were able to take pictures. I remember the rain and it pouring down the sides of the road and shoulder, but I don't remember any flash floods.

JenniferB said...

I am so glad you are safe!

Elise said...

Tori, that is insane! I'm glad you got out of there, even if it took hours. I loved all the pictures you took. I am also glad the tour bus was back behind you, and I'm sure your bladder was, too!