Judith Barad awakened unusually early, about 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 7, 2008. Her husband German Andrade and her live-in grandson Justice Oznoff, then 11-years-old, were sleeping.
Barad, in house slippers, walked down the familiar-for-24-years hallway of her brick ranch home in southern Vigo County.
In the kitchen, her slippers squished.
She switched the lights on.
More than two inches of murky water covered the floor of the front room and was seeping into the kitchen.
By sunrise, about 5:28 a.m. that day, despite her husband’s efforts with a pump, water covered the floors of every room in the house.
Then came the loud gurgling sound.
Muddy water poured from the three-car garage into the last “safe” space, an elevated room attached to the house and adjacent to the garage, where Barad huddled with her grandson. Water reached the second of the three steps to the upraised platform and continued to rise.
Barad waded to open the garage door. At ground level, the water reached to Barad’s hip and her grandson’s waist. “Honey Creek had become a lake,” she said. The open garage door revealed dirty, rushing water where before a driveway, yard and road had been.
A 911 operator said to get on the roof of the house and await rescue by boat. The power of the water would sweep the ladder free, said Barad. They chose the uncertainty of self-evacuation.
Barad wanted to take the 11 house cats. The cats, her husband insisted, would seek higher levels in the house.
She corralled feline Tina. Then the threesome, with the cat carrier held aloft, pushed through the debris-filled water to German’s Jeep.
Most frightening for Barad was the water-covered bridge. Usually a person could stand and look over the rails of the bridge and down at Honey Creek below. This day the water covered the bridge on South Sullivan Place Road.
“I was sure we were going to drown,” says Barad. She never learned to swim. She can’t even float, she insisted. She began praying aloud, “Our Father, who are in heaven… ”
Hours later, from temporary lodgings at the Midtown Motel in Terre Haute, Barad, professor of philosophy at Indiana State University, watched news video on WTWO-TV of the dirty water lapping up to the living room window of her home.
“All I could think about was my cats,” she said. “That night I couldn’t sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard. It was the most terrible night of my life.”
Widespread flash flooding in Indiana
The severe flooding resulted from a nearly continuous moderate to heavy rain that fell for 12 to 16 hours on June 6-7 and produced rainfall totals of more than 10 inches in some areas, according to the U.S. Geological Service. Rains fell on ground already soaked by a wetter-than-normal spring.
Communities that were extensively impacted by the flood included Martinsville, Franklin, Paragon, Spencer, and Columbus, which was the hardest hit, according to the USGS.
The flooding in Indiana caused three fatalities and five injuries, more than 8,400 evacuations and water rescues, damage to more than 5,600 residences, and more than 650 roads, 60 bridges, and 100 dams and levees, the USGS stated. Total damage costs resulting from the June flooding were expected to be the highest of any disaster in the history of Indiana.
Barad and her husband were one of 16,230 Indiana households who applied for individual assistance from FEMA by early August 2008, according to data in a state government performance report. More than 18 percent of those applications came from Vigo County.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard. It was the most terrible night of my life.” – Judith Barad
Presidential Disaster Declarations provide the gateway to federal funds for financial and other assistance. By two weeks after the flood, 37 Indiana counties, about 40 percent of the state, had been declared eligible for relief related to the June 7-8 event.
By Aug. 31, 2008, FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved disaster assistance totaling $117.3 million for Indiana residences and businesses, according to the Indiana Office of Disaster Recovery.
You help people in need
The morning of the flood, while Barad and her family struggled to find lodging, Jeremy Kunz and Justin Kunz, brothers and both 2007 ISU graduates, waded through waist-high water and helped where they could, including with the evacuation of south side nursing home residents.
“You take for granted you can stop what you’re doing and help people in need,” said Jeremy.
“The situation was surreal,” said Justin. The looks on the faces of the nursing home residents, in particular, triggered memories of his grandmother who had passed the year before. “It really made you think about what’s important,” he said.
Al Perone, associate dean of students and ombudsperson at ISU, planned to meet a former student for lunch. Late to arrive, the student called and said he was stuck in traffic because of the flood. “What flood?” uttered Perone, an American Red Cross volunteer, who abruptly shifted into emergency response mode.
Perone helped with sandbag efforts north of Terre Haute. Later from his ISU office, he learned about students being evacuated from apartments. He found one of the students, clutching his laptop computer, sitting on the bridge on South Seventh Street.
“People were coming out of the woodwork with boats to rescue people,” recalled Perone. “People just put everything aside and did what needed to be done.”
“The home is a symbol of who we are. Our material belongings represent identity and history. I can’t personally imagine what you go through when the entire history of your life is taken away in an instant.” – Virgil Sheets
Recovery mode began the day after. That’s the long haul and familiar to him through his Red Cross and Hope Crisis Response Network volunteering. Perone and other ISU personnel identified more than 40 students directly affected by the flood. He housed two students in his home for a week.
People on campus donated supplies such as cleaning products and personal hygiene items for students to pick up.
To assist ISU faculty, staff and students affected by the flood, the ISU Foundation started a disaster relief account with a $5,000 donation. With contributions from others, the fund grew to more than $15,000, according to an ISU newsroom report.
Nancy Rogers, ISU associate vice president for community engagement and experiential learning, and Perone participated in the Wabash Valley Long Term Disaster Recovery Coalition, a nonprofit group of 60 organizations led by the United Way of the Wabash Valley and the Wabash Valley Community Foundation who collaborated to assist residents in Vigo, Clay, Parke, Vermillion and Sullivan counties affected by the flood.
Ten months after the flood, ISU students enrolled in a research methods class gained knowledge about stress related to the flood. Through ISU’s Survey Research Laboratory, the students conducted telephone surveys of residents in Vigo County areas impacted by the flood.
People who had not yet restored their property reported 60 percent more stress symptoms than people who had restoration completed or significantly underway, according to Virgil Sheets, ISU psychology department chair, who supervised the students.
“The home is a symbol of who we are. Our material belongings represent identity and history. I can’t personally imagine what you go through when the entire history of your life is taken away in an instant.”
When someone experiences a tragedy, such as a natural disaster, two of the most common coping strategies are to take action and/or to reframe the experience. Take action includes calling the insurance agent, starting the physical cleanup process, or anything that contributes to having some control over the circumstances, said Sheets. The strategy of reframing the experience provides an opportunity for growth. “Lots of people reframe a bad experience through conceiving or creating a spiritual framework. Reframing it in that light, research reveals, is psychologically helpful.”
Generally, research on peoples’ reactions to disasters, is that they think about what to do or what they can do and they do it, said Sheets. “Research suggests that all the movies about disasters that show people frightened and panicking are not accurate,” he said. “What most people do is they say, ‘OK, here’s what we’re dealing with’ and they take action. Whether or not they do the right thing, they try to do something.”
A grateful heart
Barad looked around the small, crowded waiting room of the Salvation Army in downtown Terre Haute and absorbed snatches of conversation. That summer of 2008, she spent a lot of time in waiting rooms of charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross.
The Walmart gift cards, being distributed to flood victims, were the commodities worth the wait that particular day. “I was one with the other people in the room, which is different than being one of the people in the room,” said Barad. “All of us in that room were dependent on the charity of others.”
Her professional markers of achievement — Ph.D. from Northwestern University, author of several books and many scholarly articles, full professor status at ISU — held no currency in any of the places she now frequented.
Barad, her husband and her grandson lost all their possessions, including furniture, clothing and Barad’s car. FEMA assessed their home 85 percent substantially damaged. The family considered re-location, but decided to restore their damaged home.
Barad’s weeping the night of the flood had been transformed to joy the following morning. Amidst the day-after-the-flood destruction, she and her husband found the 10 household feline family members alive. Longtime animal welfare advocates, the couple also cared for several cats in outside shelters. One kitten perished in the flood. All others survived.
The Midtown Motel served as their home the week after the flood. ISU provided them with a graduate student apartment for a month. In mid-August, Barad received a phone call from FEMA that a trailer was available. Her grandson Justice could again live with his grandparents and the cats too. “The whole family was together again,” she said.
The loss of creature comfort that most challenged her peace of her mind during those nomadic months after the flood was a decent bed, she said. When they moved back into their home in mid-October that year, she relished her new bed.
Now almost four years later, she’s, well, philosophical.
Humility and gratitude are powerful gifts, she said. “Parishioners from St. Joseph University Parish, ISU students, many people in the community and even people from out-of-state helped us to clean and to rebuild. One dear family, from my church, sheltered our cats for more than two months during that summer.”
Deeper understanding of the value of simplicity and poverty occurred for her over time, she said. “I learned to distinguish wants from needs.” Material poverty taught her about simplicity, she said, but the greater lesson was about spiritual poverty. “In spiritual poverty, I know that God is my primary need and I am aware that I have room to grow in wisdom and virtue. I also know that I must keep up a steady effort to achieve this growth.”
When daily life upsets occur now, Barad said she strives to pause and to breathe. “I ask myself what I can learn from the situation. The answer I look for is the kind that can teach me to be a better person or an insight that gives me deeper spiritual wisdom.”
She said she now has a deeper understanding about living in the present moment.
“We control our happiness in life,” she said. “That’s what I’ve learned from the flood.”
Patricia Krapesh is a freelance writer who lives in Terre Haute, Ind.