Thank you to the people that have called this morning and asked if we were fine as once again historically disproportionate flooding devastates Baltimore. Everything is very wet but we have learned to be on higher ground….after 2008.
But imagine standing in this store while water is rising behind you. At 16 feet above normal, you will flood. We had just moved into our store from Washington DC where flooding is rare. It never occurred to us to even be concerned about the shallow, creek like strip of water so far below our parking lot. But it was raining…a lot. We had had a hurricane hit the week before and survived but the ground could take no more water and trees were falling. To calm our fears, the developer showed us great plans for his “pumps” that would carry water away from the development..and the massive flood gates that would be in place should any rain dare to flood us because of the Whole Foods parking lot above us…no mention that the danger could or had in the past risen from below.
Suddenly, now you look out and see trees and every imaginable object banging into the bridge that brings you to work. Firetrucks and tow trucks are stranded on the other side, lights flashing. And then the water seeps over the banks, like a large sink overflowing. Within 31 minutes, we will be 38 inches under water and everything we have worked for will be gone. 2.4 million in inventory plus every file, box,tissue and ribbon.
The City had wanted to be conservationist if it could and declared the river off bounds. You were not allowed to clear it, dredge it or even clean it of unsightly debris, like shopping carts, dead trees, soccer balls or beer cans. They would get to all that when the budget permitted. They had also seen clear to enter into some questionable agreements with developers who wanted to develop the old factories and dye mills that once used the river for power. Beautiful old buildings that with the right windows, elevators and signage could be trendy and urban and profitable…just not always dry. And who would know?
I had been placing frantic phone calls for a hours trying to find the flood gates. They were gone- locked up by the developer who feared that scrap thieves might get them. I can only get an assistant on the phone who assures me that we will not flood. Now the water is coming through the drain in the bathroom, soon through the toilet bowl, a crack in the floor is oozing water and at last I see it coming through the electric sockets.
I can hear bullhorns calling us to leave. I see my husband and daughter trying to throw pillows and curtain panels up into the rafters- furniture up onto crates and anything else we can find. And then through the pouring rain, I see one of the developers pulling up and workers who we could not find meet him. Out of his pocket he pulls the key to the locked room and the bolts with which to secure doors that long ago saw water.
The workers soon gave up putting the gates up in any meaningful way. They were heavy, they need silicone which was not there and the bolts were impossible to latch without power tools. Besides the water was up and over the window sills by now. We were finished. My husband knew it. But I kept thinking we could turn it around. Our car was almost underwater but started and he took our daughter and the dog ,who had been swimming through our store chasing trays of glasses and candles that began floating calmly through the space in a eerie scene, back home.
The police had to escort me out under threat of arrest.
In a few hours it was over, I was the first person back on the old bridge and over to my store. The smell was like no other. Flood mud has its own unique nastiness. Snakes writhed on the floor of my building, small drowned animals were crammed by flood waters into crevices and corners. Mud was on everything up to 3.5 feet. When the sun would come out tomorrow, the conditions in the building would be disgusting. The Cavalry did not ride in. We did not see the developer that called the flood risk minimal and a “trickle”, who had locked up the gates and taken the bolts home. We did not see anyone from the City who had allowed them to rent to us and never cleaned the river.
A few neighbors came down. They cried. They brought Wetvacs when there was electricity and they said goodbye because it was clear that we would not come back from this.
This morning when I saw the news, the photos were the same. Our old building is where they send the news crews and to the squash courts down the road. I started to cry when I saw it because someone else is now there. Someone else will go through what we did. They use the building for parties now only but there had been one last night. And some people were stranded all night trying to protect their belongings.
I remember so clearly the developer arriving finally and walking directly into his building – eyes averted- not even walking into our store to say, anything, to be human. Lawyers must have told him to not act as though he were not too blame for anything. He could not imagine that with no livelihood in front of us for months that suing him would be far from our minds. I am thinking about these people today. How utterly devastated they must be.
I remember how knocked down my husband was after this. He had worked so hard, physically and mentally to build our business. I remember the bank calling and asking if we were OK and in the same breathe letting me know that our mortgage could not run late, or the car payments. I missed tuition deadlines. Orders had to be refunded. I had things on consignment. The Landlord lowered the rent but insisted be paid, even if FEMA had chained the doors. There was no money and Hope was just a town in Arkansas.
The eventual ripple from this has still not subsided. We lost our home. We lost clients. We lost vendors. Our lives; what we wore, what we ate, where we went, all changed that night. We heard from very few friends and relatives. It was just too sad for most people and too big a problem.
I only remember one encounter that helped me heal. I was in a store and struck up a conversation with the proprietor. He asked what I did and I told him that I owned Gore Dean. He put down what was in his hands and came over and silently held me. I looked in his eyes and he was crying. When I asked him if he had ever been in the store, he dried his eyes and murmured, “many times”. That had been his store at one time. And that “trickle” had wiped him out years before. That knowing hug meant the world to me and I send that love and sympathy to the people after us who are today trying to figure out whether they still have a way to feed their family.
Two people lost their lives yesterday. We paid no such price. But the ripple from this devastation will last for hundreds of families for many years. If possible, encourage them; call them; reach out and do business with them; give them some time to catch up.
Like me and the man before me, they will re-invent themselves and their businesses. They will learn what is important in life and what is really takes to be happy. But there is always a lingering sadness and thoughts of what might have been. And a hug every once in awhile and a kind gesture can be like a miracle.