In the 55 years we’ve been at Kidron, our store has never flooded. In fact, the tiny North Fork Creek (that actually runs under part of our store) barely ever even left its banks. There were several smaller contributing events, which I plan to write about in more detail later. But there was one giant event that was at the root of it all. The entire tragedy unfolded in less than three hours.
5:00 AM – One of my friends that works at Central Christian Schools saw that the fields and parking lot around the school were full of water. In over a quarter century of working there, he had never seen anything like that before. Central Christian School is at the crest of a hill about a mile from Lehman’s. (Click here to see a map view.)
5:30 AM – Lehman’s first employees began arriving at the store. (Since I didn’t ask their permission, I won’t give their names here. It was an Amish woman who cleans our store, our building maintenance manager and one of our lead shelf stockers.) They saw that Kidron’s back parking lot was underwater. Soon, the water began creeping into the building under the doors.
6:00 AM – My friend at the school on the crest of the hill looked out the window and noticed that all the water around the school was gone. We now believe that the 5′ diameter culvert under the Kidron Road, designed to safely carry all that water away, had been plugged with snow and ice. When it melted just before six in the morning, it let loose a flash flood.
6:30 AM – A torrent of water came through Kidron in what one observer described as “a tidal wave.” Jason Nussbaum, our VP of Retail, who had been called to the Kidron store by our building manager, started calling employees and telling them not to come to work. He tried to call me at home, but since I was in the shower I didn’t hear the phone ring. The water reached a crest of nearly 3 feet in parts of the store.
7:00 AM – I got my second call me at home. I’ll never forget the words, “Did you know there is 18 inches of water all through the store?” I didn’t know then, but this vastly understated the problem. By 7:10, I was at the store. But, the water was too deep for me to enter, even with my boots on.
7:30 AM – Most of the water was gone from the store. Parts of the parking lot were underwater from clogged drains. The water came through the store with such speed and force that it picked up an 18 cu ft refrigerator and carried it nearly from one end of the store to the other. Thousands of smaller items washed into the down hill end of the store, where they piled up so deeply that they completely blocked the aisles.
8:10 AM – Clean up work started.
We had about 60-70 people at the Kidron store until after 10 pm that first day. This included employees, temporary workers and volunteers. By the time we left that night, most of the center entrance was clean. All the merchandise that had been knocked onto the floor in the flood was picked up. A lot of the mud had been scrapped from the floor.
Within 30 hours of the flood, we had the front doors open, although only the lobby was open. By Friday, we had nearly the whole store open. (Our wood stove department won’t open for a few more weeks because we are using that area to sort damaged goods. The cafe will open next week, as soon as we are done sterilizing and cleaning all the equipment.)
I said at the beginning of this post, “The entire tragedy unfolded in less than three hours.” That much is true. The clean up was not tragedy, but a miracle…a miracle of giving, of unity, of caring and of hard work.
I was just in the store, and it was almost normal there. Lot’s of customers, most of whom already knew about the flood. Many were eager snap up bargains from our 50% off, flood-damaged sale rooms. Others were eager just to stand around and give emotional support. Both were equally welcome and just what I needed after what started as one of the worst weeks I’ve been through and ended as possibly one of the best.
I will bring more details as I have time. We still have lots of work to do before we are completely back to normal. Without flood insurance, there are financial challenges to overcome. For right now, though, I just want to thank everyone with every ounce of my heart for their sacrificial work. I have never seen a group of people come together in such an amazing way.