It’s now been five months since our store flooded. The clean up is long since completed, the store is open, and (except for a few pocket knives) all the flood damaged merchandise has been disposed of or closed out at deep discount prices.
It’s a good time for reflection. Here are some of the things I learned.
You probably don’t have insurance for this.
First and foremost, your insurance doesn’t cover flooding, unless you specifically request it (and neither did ours).
One of the first things I did when I saw the damage caused by the flash flood on February 28, 2011, was call our insurance agent. Unfortunately, flood damage is always part of an optional rider. This is true whether you have commercial or homeowner’s coverage. Although our carrier, Westfield Insurance, worked hard to help us the only thing they could do was give us a check for “backed up drains” and “debris removal”. This covered about 10% of our losses, which exceed $250,000.
Make sure your policy covers the cost of flood damage, if your home or business is in a low lying area. You should do this even if you’ve never flooded before, which leads me to another thing I learned.
Our store has been in the same location for nearly 60 years. During that time, there have been several torrential downpours that caused flooding. But, none ever came any where near the floor level of our store. (This one crested at 32″ above the floor. If you visit the store today, you can see the “water line” markers we’ve set up.) To see full details on what caused the flood, click here.
We sometimes say that disaster strikes “out of the blue.” This disaster hit us out of gray skies, so “out of the gray” may be more fitting. When this happens, everyone deals with the arbitrary cruelty of it all in different ways.
It was a crushing surprise for me. It didn’t feel much different than hearing of the unexpected death of a close friend would have felt.
A friend from church asked me several days after the disaster, “Did it make you feel like God had turned his back on you?” By that time, I had worked my way through the shock of it all. My emotions were a little less ragged then on the first two days and I was able to answer thoughtfully and truthfully.
Out of that crushing surprise, I did learn some things. Maybe I even learned what God was trying to tell me.
Most people are good
The flood water began rising came in the store a little after 5 am. It was a true “flash flood.” By 7:30, the water had drained away, leaving behind more than 30 tons of mud and having displaced or destroyed everything in the store on the bottom two shelves.
My first taste of true heroism came even before the waters receded. Several employees waded through the icy water that was nearly waist high to open drains and open doors so the water could get out of the store. One rescued an employee who had been trapped in their car by the rapidly rising water, at great personal risk.
Just a few minutes after the water receded, the first volunteers began to trickle in. Soon, we had a different kind of flood, a flood of helpers.
Folks came from as far away as neighboring states to help us clean up. We soon lost count, but we estimate more than 300 people showed up, without being asked. A few folks who came to shop put down their shopping baskets and picked up buckets and rags.
Hearing we had no insurance, some sent money…$500 from a retired employee, $20 cash, sent anonymously. Vendors replaced flood-lost merchandise or canceled invoices. In the end, nearly 20% of our losses were offset by caring donations.
Many found unusual ways to help. Some, like Gerber’s Poultry, cooked meals for volunteers. Venture Equipment brought tractors and scrapped 2″ of mud from the parking lots. Bennet’s Appliance brought half a dozen dehumidifiers to help with the drying process. Mennonite Mutual Insurance (a competitor to the insurance company we actually use) sent a technician with a camera that could help us see water damage behind the walls. P Graham Dunn sent 27 employees for a full day’s work. Central Christian Schools sent their power driven flood scrubber.
Some, who couldn’t help, just sent words of encouragement. One email said, “I’m confident in your organization’s resiliency, the broader community’s support and your leadership ability, Galen. Eat this elephant calmly, one bite at a time. God gave most of us brains, brawn and the ability to be thankful. He probably expects us to fully use what he has provided.”
A dear woman from our church, who I would later see scraping mud from one of our displays, sent me a verse from Isaiah, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
Another (a professional woman who I later saw working in the store, uncharacteristically clad in muddy jeans), sent me her personal paraphrase from Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and our products are carried into the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the store quakes with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with you; the God of Jacob is your fortress. (And so is the community).”
When you’re too tired to cry, laughter works.
The clean-up crew on the second day was a mixture of folks from my church, employees and local Amish volunteers. Desi normally spends her day helping customers with their returns. On that day, she was down at the store with a wheelbarrow full of mud. She thought this would be a good opportunity to learn a new Amish word. So, she turned to an Amish man named Harry, who lives up the street. “What do you call a wheelbarrow?” she asked. His reply was, “You don’t call it, you push it.”
LuAnn, one of our accounting clerks, is apparently renowned for carrying an oversized purse and being able to produce most anything you need from it. Being a typical guy, I hadn’t noticed. But, Desi did. On the first day, someone asked, “Was all this damage from the flood?” Desi’s answer? “No, LuAnn just dropped her purse.”
About a week after the flood, Kidron was hit by another downpour. Fortunately, there was no flooding this time. But, Lois, who runs our lamp department, said, “I now know how Noah felt the first time it rained after they left the ark.”
One of our register clerks, a young woman named Joy, told me that she knows I’m always working on ways to get employees to bond better. She thought this was a great bonding event, because everyone rolled up their sleeves and pitched in. Heather, one of our retail specialists, replied, “A pajama party would have been cheaper.”
Good things can come out of bad experiences
No question, this was one of the worst experiences I have ever had. I’m glad it’s over. I learned that sometimes bad things happen because we need to learn that there are good people. I learned that we can overcome adversity with laughter.
Most of all, I learned that we don’t have to lose hope. My hope in Lehman’s future was restored by this event. My hope that employees, customers and neighbors would rally around us in a struggle moved from blind faith to visible miracles.
In the end, we emerged stronger, happier and (unbelievably) with a cleaner store. The financial loss hurt, but (as the saying goes) what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I have no doubt that you may be facing some significant challenges of your own. My hope and prayer for you is that you may emerge just as strong as we did, and that you may ultimately experience the love and support that we found.