The following is an article I wrote about nine years ago after losing my car to a flash flood. In honor of recent events and the current flash flooding, I present this flashback. Apologies for the misuse of an adverb.
June 15, 2001, 2:54PM
Things learned from a flooded freeway
By DAN GREEN
Dear Everyone, I don't know if you've been following anything in the news besides the execution of Timothy and the obnoxious L.A. Lakers, but we've had a bit of flooding down here in Houston. I've been in flash floods before but I think it's safe to say I've never experienced one as incredible as the one brought about by Tropical Storm Allison.
There I was last Friday night, leaving my girlfriend's house (yes, that's read correctly -I'm no longer "Platonic Dan") and heading back for my apartment eager to get to sleep and out of the light drizzle I'd been driving through all day. Thankfully, the sanctuary of my little Acura Integra made for a pleasurable cruise from her house to Interstate 10 west. Tuning into the radio stations, I knew that Interstate 10 was the only highway that wasn't experiencing traffic jams or severe weather so it seemed likely that I'd have an easy 13 mile journey to my apartment....Damn my hubris.
12:06 a.m.: Static:
The first sign of trouble is the radio. Regularly, the reception around Houston is as clear as a whistle but in this case, the rain and the static have taken every other word. For a moment I am entertained by the game, filling in my own words for the song which I thought was "Freeze Frame" by the J. Geils Band (a perennial classic). As a cautionary tactic, I decide to reduce my speed from 70 to 55. However, the other cars and 18 wheelers around me barrel onward.
12:08 a.m.: The Clue I Didn't Pick up on Until Later:
I casually notice that there are no cars, SUVs, or trucks heading in the opposite direction. In my head I'm thinking it's because two of the highways in that direction are closed...
12:10 a.m.: The Moment of Truth:
Visibility is somewhat difficult but part of that is because I'm now riding to the left of an 18-wheeler's back wheel which is spraying my car continuously with water picked up from its treads. My wipers are working full throttle but it's to no avail. I begin making up my own song about 18-wheeler jerks but am interrupted in mid-flat-note by the emergency broadcast system. It is not a test. Both Interstate 59 and Interstate 45 are closed as is the city's loop on the east side. I deduce that the problem is behind me as I'm heading west but I reduce my speed to 35. The people around me follow suit.
12:15 a.m.: The Chevy Blazer:
I-10 is a four lane highway heading west through the city. I am now in the third lane (2nd from the center median) as I'm predicting the traffic will spread out for the upcoming loop division (some four miles away). A 1989 Chevy blazer cannot take the speed that everyone is choosing to go so it exits the 3rd lane and proceeds to pass us all on the left. I called him several unfriendly words at the top of my lungs. Suddenly, the Blazer begins to shimmy. It starts to skid and slide sideways. It is now hydroplaning and I am pressing down on my breaks firmly (It is approximately 10 car lengths ahead of me). Ultimately, the Blazer skids to a halt and sits still as I pass it (now at a cautionary 20 miles an hour).-Deductions I made from witnessing the hydroplaning:
1) Water is accumulating in some areas so be careful.
2) If you see any big puddles, exit.
3) Stay close to the median so as to avoid the puddles at all cost because your Acura can't handle it.
4) The guy driving is an idiot.
12:16 a.m.: The Warning and the Waiting:
As I drove towards the 610 loop, I saw a blinking yellow sign which read, "Expect delays at the loop." Within a half a mile of that sign, I found myself at a standstill underneath the T.C. Jester Boulevard overpass, out of the rain for the moment, stuck in a typical Houston traffic jam, singing the words to "Desperado," (much to the amusement of a Vietnamese woman as I later found out). There are trucks in front of me, vans, other sports cars, and several large cars. There are also tankers and other big rigs behind me. I'm not going anywhere for a while-if only there were a Snickers bar around.
12:20 a.m.: The Cop Lady's Request:
A cop in the 2nd lane rolls down her window and flags me. She ask very politely if I wouldn't mind "scootching over" towards the median even more because she's noticed the water level rising around us. I acquiesce ever so graciously.
12:25 a.m.: The Rising:
The cop is now out of her car, moving things out of her trunk. Hers is the only "car" in the 2nd lane. The rest of the vehicles are rigs of one kind or another. She seems perturbed. I don't like angry cops so I try to ignore her (truly my finest hour). Water is now accumulating underneath my car. I get angry with the truck driver behind me because first, his lights are on and flashing right into my mirror and secondly, he is driving forward sending small waves into my car's exhaust. Has he no conscience? Is he just pure evil? Other drivers also jeer at him. We are united in our disgust; a very reputable mob mentality. Suddenly, a Nigerian man calls to me and ask if I have water in my car. I check. Nope. We both sigh relieved.
12:30 a.m.: The 1st Wave:
I've been relaxing for a moment, my seat eased back, the car off, listening to the rain. My foot has been resting slightly on the clutch. I decide to sit up and stretch. I put my foot down and I hear a splash. There is a centimeter of water in the car. "That's not so bad," I think. I can have this thing cleaned out tomorrow and it'll be as good as new. I just gotta hope that the rain will stop. Looking out into the night, I study the rain and come to the frightening conclusion that the rain can go on a little longer. A motorcycle weaves its way by me through traffic without difficulty. I am jealous of the Chinese kid in the Prelude who rolls down his window for the sheer delight of shooting the finger at the motorcyclist. "Why didn't I do that?" I ponder.
12:35 a.m.: The Hard Fought Loss:
I grab a coffee mug that I've had in my car since mid-May and start bailing water out. I also grab a water bottle and using my trusty scout knife, cut off the top to have a second water bailer. My father's voice echoes in my head as I remember my sailing days, "Bail! Bail! Bail! Bail!"
...He would have been proud of my effort. Water is now nearing the top of the seat cushion. It seeps in with greater ease than my ability to send it out. I notice an Irish tape floating underneath the center console. It serves as the catalyst for one of my finer barrages of expletives-directed primarily at myself and the rain. "You stupid idiot! You stupid %$#@** moron! AAAAAAAAGGGGHHH! Of all the *#@ luck! %%&$$^% this rain! *&@#% this car! *%##@ this night!" Thankfully, the neighbors couldn't hear me.
12:40 a.m.: Abandoning Ship:
I am now out of my car and loading things up into my backpack · anything I can salvage. Other motorist are out and about doing the same thing. The water is now above my knee. I put everything on top of my back speakers and go watch the flood from the median. There I visit with the Vietnamese family, the Chinese kid (Steven), the Nigerian who lost his alligator shoes, computer, dry cleaning, cell phone, and CD player. Typical questions: Are you insured? Can you believe this? When will it end? Did you hear any warnings on the radio?
12:50 a.m.: THE MASS EXODUS:
The rain is now up to the window of my car. The electricity shorts out on it, causing the alarm to sound for the first time in nine months, much to the delight of my neighbors. I frantically search for my alarm control and drop my keys. Reluctantly, I immerse myself into the water. Using my toes, I manage to retrieve the keys but I am 100% soaked in the process. Thankfully, other people's alarms are sounding as well and the hatred for me is short lived. The alarm fails to respond to my control but eventually it cuts itself off (it would do that several more times). I study the water and realize that it's still rising steadily. I go to my car, open up the hatchback and retrieve everything I can put in either my backpack or my Snoopy pillowcase. Then I carry them above my shoulders over the median to the southern bank of the TC Jester overpass. Other people follow suit. Some draw allusions to Moses, some to Noah, and some to INS and the Rio Grande. Andalé Muchachos!
1:00 a.m.: The S.S. INTEGRA:
People point out which car is going under first. The Hondas, Acuras and Mitsibushis will go, no doubt. Somebody has a BMW roadster too. People delight in watching it go under. We also notice that all of the truck drivers are staying with their rigs. We hate the truck drivers. Now we are one collective, using each other's cell phones, shaking our heads in unison, borrowing each others dry stuff. For the moment, it is okay to be under the bridge, out of the rain and the water, watching the spectacle. I notice that cars are floating into one another a little bit. All that can be seen of my car is the sun roof. I think to myself that I've now lost one car to black ice and another to a flash flood. Nature 2, Me zip.
1:10 a.m.: The Flash Flood:
Somebody calls out that they just timed the water. It's rising a foot every ten minutes. We all sit there with our mouths open.
1:30 a.m.: The Truck People:
The water is at least 6 feet deep now. It has covered a Landcruiser and an Astrovan in the last few minutes. Trucks start blowing their horns much to the dismay of those of us sleeping on the embankment. Our group finally figures out that some of the truckers are in trouble and we go to help. The truck drivers' rigs are now shorting out and they are escaping rapidly. We form a pretty weak firemen's line to help those of them that are escaping to the Southern bank. I saved a blanket.
1:50 a.m.: The Guy Who Couldn't Swim and His Family:
One Trucker honked on his horn for several minutes until finally people figured out he was trapped inside (His locks were electrical and the electricity wasn't working in his rig.) Once the door was pried open, he grabbed his two boys, ages 8 and 4, and tried to carry them to our embankment. His back had a slipped disk that he was taking medicine for, so the weight of both children caused him some distress. Also, he was not a very strong swimmer. Already wet, our group decided to help out as much as possible. We managed to get them all over to our underpass safely.
1:55 a.m.: The Fire:
It was a good thing that we got the family out of their rig because a small fire broke out inside it. Ultimately, the electrical fire grew ten feet tall and enveloped the entire rig. We all sat there in disbelief. The man hugged his children tight and prayed. No one said anything for a while. 2:00 a.m.: Let's Get the Hell Out Of Here!:
I have never seen lightning so close in my life. Less than 200 yards away, lightning struck the tail end of a tanker which was floating high (I later learned that it was empty). Everyone screamed. A security guard exclaimed that there was a Texaco Station behind us if we wanted to leave the shelter. I yelled at the top of my lungs, in Batman fashion no less, "To the Texaco Station!!!!!" Like a band of Gypsies we grabbed everything we could and made our way up the embankment to a shelter that had already been discovered by about 200 other people.
3:00 a.m.: The View.
Tankers and 18 wheelers are floating into one another now. I-10 has been renamed by us as "Bayou 10." We worry that the rain will continue and we'll have to seek higher ground again. It is approximately 6 feet to the top of the "levee."
THE REST OF THE NIGHT:
I stayed up watching the news, watching the rain, hearing horror story after horror story. I found a bed for the two kids that were saved by our group. I bought a Tylenol for the guy with the bad back as he had to stand up. I cursed the manager of the Texaco station for kicking the children out of the dry bay of his garage. I consoled the Nigerian 38 year old who was uninsured and worried that his Dad would explode. I cracked jokes with some gang bangers who were exceptionally polite (they were from Beaumont no less). I spoke Spanish for the better part of the evening with two life insurance salesmen from Colombia. I drank Yoohoo Sodas and ate Funions, something I hadn't done since 7th grade.
The rain didn't stop until 7:30. Houston amassed 22 inches of rain in 7 hours, this after being flooded partially on Tuesday night. The area where I was camped out received the brunt of it in the city as it was the section of I-10 right next to Buffalo Bayou which had already overflowed from the Tuesday downpour. My car was approximately sixteen feet under water. I would have been okay with all of that had I not found out that the police made a special trip to TC Jester to help a trucker move his cargo to higher ground. I was told the cargo was Ross Perot's nephew's Lamborgini Countache. It sat there atop the TC Jester overpass, directly above my submarine. The entire gas station was anxious to see it fall into the water. Justice would have been served. I wasn't picked up until 9:30 and I couldn't get home until Sunday.
The lessons I learned from this experience:
1) Always carry a toothbrush with you where ever you go.
2) Pay attention to weather patterns.
3) People are generally friendly, once you get past their outer images.
...except for the manager of the Texaco Station at T.C. Jester and I-10.
4) Don't curse people out in a storm ...because you just might end up spending the night with them at a gas station.
5) Keep a pillow, blanket, 1st Aid kit, flashlight, poncho, water and batteries with you in the back of your car at all times (I had everything but the blanket).
6) Don't skimp on insurance ever.
7) Don't end dates early simply because you want to sleep.
8) Drive bigger cars.
In all honesty, I'm okay with what happened. I'm insured. I'm alive. There are people in far more dire straits than I could ever be. This is actually pretty minor now. My car is caked in mud. There are flies all over it, but it's been towed away and I have a claim number. ...I am now looking into trucks again. I'm done with small cars.
God bless everyone and stay out of the rain.