Lessons from Our Flood
- Monday, February 02, 2004
"I hear water running," my wife exclaimed as we entered the house from the garage one Sunday afternoon following worship service. As my mind cleared from the panic in her voice, I heard it too. There was a continuous "shssshhh" sound, like a kitchen faucet running full blast into a metal sink. My breathing and pulse quickened as I entered the house. My initial thought, as we rushed toward the source of the dreaded sound, was that a water line to the dishwasher had ruptured or someone had left the kitchen faucet running. As we stepped from the hardwood foyer onto the dining room carpet, our worst fears became a reality. Water oozed from the carpet underfoot like water squeezed from a sponge. Dear God, no! Not our home.
We were welcomed to the kitchen by a quarter inch of water standing on the vinyl. Water was seeping out from underneath the kitchen cabinets. Within a few seconds we were able to pinpoint the source of the leak. A pipe had ruptured in the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.
Remembering a hand valve located under the house, I made a beeline for the crawl space door. Crawling on my hands and knees, and at times sliding along on my belly in my Sunday best, I made my way through the dark toward the valve that I knew was located in the far corner. The water seeping through the floor above rained down on me as I groped through the dark toward my destination.
My hand found the valve. I attempted to rotate the valve handle in a clockwise direction to shut it. To my horror, I discovered that the valve was already closed. I was stricken with panic. The valve in which I had placed my hope was not a water shutoff valve at all!
I reversed my path and once again wallowed through the damp dirt back to the outside light. I ran in desperation down to the street where the water utility box was located. My wife's hysterical tears, and the vision of water raining down in the crawl space, flashed through my mind. The terrible spraying sound from the broken pipe in the wall haunted my thoughts as I yanked off the water box cover.
The water valve, which had not been operated in over seven years, was nowhere to be seen. A fire ant mound completely covered the valve and only a portion of the meter face was visible. With my bare hands I scooped out the ant mound. Fortunately, due to the recent cold weather, the ants had migrated deeper into the earth. I was spared their fearless attack and blistering bites.
The clock was ticking. The water was flowing. The damage to our home was growing more severe with each passing moment. Got to get the water off! I located the valve, and lacking the special tool required to turn the valve, I tried to turn it with my bare hands. It would not budge. Dear God, help me! I leapt to my feet, ran back up the driveway, and grabbed a hammer and a large screwdriver from the garage. My heart, which pounded in my chest, echoed in my ears with each beat. I could not believe this was happening to me. I knew the house was supposed to be equipped with a water shutoff valve; yet, I had failed to locate it. To make matters worse, I did not have the proper tool to shut off the water valve at the street. I raced back down the driveway to the water box. I stuck the end of the screwdriver in a slot in the valve and frantically pounded the handle of the screwdriver with the hammer. Am I turning this thing in the right direction? It is bound to be a right-hand valve. I pounded harder. Finally, the valve began to rotate toward the closed position. The spinning counter began to rotate slower and slower and then stopped completely.
Exhausted from the moment and relieved at having stopped the deluge, I rested on my hands and knees by the water box. Having kicked off her high heels during the time of crisis, my wife now stood in bare feet at the end of the driveway with tears streaming down her face. As we embraced, seeking comfort from one another, I realized that though the flood had stopped, we were just beginning the long road to recovery from this disaster.
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