Flash Flood

I thought I would spend much of this blog telling you about the New Zealand scenery as we traveled south, but I must begin instead with the events of last night.

Last night we stayed in a sleepy hamlet south of Haast Beach, which is barely a town itself. Rain poured all day as we drove south and we were thankful to find a motel room with a solid roof and a big bathroom where we could hang our wet tents from the night before. We watched as the puddles outside our window grew into ponds and still the rain beat down as we corralled the kids into bed. We had a hard time falling asleep due to the bellowing of cows in the field behind us, who were no doubt upset about the water.

As rain hurled against the windows I began to pray for the cows who were disturbingly boisterous; I had a growing concern that their field might be flooding. Dan assured me that they would find high ground and be fine. I must have believed him because I dozed off into a light sleep until a gurgling sound in our bathroom and kitchen startled me awake. Dan got up to investigate and I stumbled out behind him. While he was checking out the bathroom I noticed water seeping under the living room wall and into the room. Hastily, I pulled a jacket off the floor, only to turn around and find more water spilling in from the other side of the room. When I looked at the slider door I was dazed—it was like looking into an aquarium. The water was over a foot high and climbing, and now beginning to gush into the room around the cracks.

We raced to wake up the kids and yank things off the floor and onto higher surfaces. The waste basket floated by, and then the refrigerator. By now the kids were up and standing on furniture, shoving their arms into coats as Dan and I prepared them to climb onto the roof if necessary.

Aliza was crying and shaking uncontrollably, Caleb was in a stupor and had lost one of his sneakers. Micah’s jacket was in our newly purchased minivan, which was submerged up above the headlights. As I gathered up water bottles and headlamps, I had a slow-motion moment in which I realized just how vulnerable we were. We had no cell service for over twenty miles and no idea where the high ground was or who else was at the motel, it was pitch-black, and it was 3:30 in the morning.

Dan jumped out a window and searched for higher ground while I grabbed our wallets and pulled a poncho over Aliza’s head, throwing Emma her raincoat in the same motion. I opened the door and let in what little water was left to flow through. Already the couches were floating and we had put all the kids on one to hold it down.

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Dan returned and propped Aliza onto his back and Micah clung to mine as Caleb and Emma and I locked arms to anchor each other down as we waded out over my waist into the dark. The  wailing of desperate cows rung in our ears and logs from someone’s woodpile floated past as we stepped toward a single light in the distance. Soon we could hear voices and see cars parked on higher ground.

Dan, ever resourceful, broke into a vacant room and dropped our most precious cargo, all of whom snuggled, wet and teeth chattering, on a bed. We turned on a space heater and plunged back into the brown pool to retrieve our other valuables. Before long the kids were stripped, dried, and huddled in sleeping bags surrounded by mounds of damp luggage.

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This morning we learned that the swollen river and high tide had caused the flash flood. About two hours before we awoke to the bathroom gurgling, the farmer next door herded his cattle through the motel complex and on to a higher field. Even so, many were loose and wandering.  One cow passed in front of me leading seven or eight nervous calves in tow. Another neighbor destroyed his car after hitting a cow in the early morning fog.  Our room buckled and the kitchen broke off from the living room. And sadly, our new car, which we so enjoyed, is nothing but a shiny lawn ornament marking the site of devastation. Water flooded the engine when Dan tried to move it and this morning the mechanic used words like “engine block” and “hydro-something” which means we need a new engine. Since that would cost more than our car did, Dan has hitched a ride to the next town (3.5 hours through the mountain pass) to try and find a rental.

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Meanwhile, by God’s grace, it has turned out to be a sunny day. We waved good-bye to all our new motel friends as they departed, leaving the kids and I behind with the clean-up crew. Now we have most of the motel to ourselves thanks to other guests who happily passed their room keys on to us.  We are currently occupying four dry, single rooms. We have no internet connection or cell coverage so Dan kissed me good-bye with a promise to return tonight or tomorrow at the latest. I am rationing our bread and peanut butter, so thankful that we have been shopping for breakfast and lunch each time we pass a grocery store.

Micah and Aliza are currently playing in the dirt in front of me as I write this at the picnic table. The water has receded enough to look like a pond in front of the motel, finally having dripped its way out of the last low cabin, which was ours. Emma is sharing her story on postcards and Caleb is somewhere on the premises. Now it is gorgeously sunny with a strong drying wind, much like that of Noah’s day, I assume. Palms and evergreens both are blowing in the wind and the glacial mountains that loom over Haast Pass tower in the distance.

We have not seen the Lovejoys for two days, though we have been in touch whenever cell service was available.  They were somewhere on the road behind us, and we are praying for them.  The road we came through is now closed due to mudslides near Fox Glacier.  We are hoping they decided to stop for the night somewhere before the glacier land.

Although I know you will read this after we are back on the road and have internet service, and that will mean our situation has improved, I wanted to write this while it was fresh—and I happened to have lots of down time. I appreciate your prayers for our family, as I know many of you are praying even when you don’t hear from us. It may be those prayers that woke us up, rather than the gurgling of the sink. We are thankful for God’s goodness and our small losses—a car, a Bible and devotional that are saturated, and a word search that never made it off the floor; Micah’s camera and kindle, and a pile of travel books and brochures. We have never been more grateful for the sun, and for the helping hands of strangers who came together on a dark and stormy night. I watch the kids now hopping around and know that God is good.

Here is the rest of the story from three days later:

Dan found a large rental van in the mountain town of Wanaka and returned to pick us up at 4:00, then re-routed back to Wanaka where we spent the night with a couple who supports our Tandem teammates. We are forever grateful to Stephen and Jackie, the couple who put us up and let us scrub the flood waters off in their shower! The next day we drove straight to Dunedin, though we are sad to report that our housing fell through despite having signed a contract. Battling fatigue and despair, we spent an encouraging night with Dre and Mic, the Tandem team leaders here in Dunedin, then spent the following morning searching for a rental house.

We are pleased to report that the Lovejoys were safe and merely out of cell service and have now joined us here in Dunedin where all eleven of us are sharing a three bedroom student apartment. This morning, Dan and Mark took off in a rented truck with a dolly to make the long drive back to Haast to retrieve our swamped minivan, which they have some hope of fixing. Alicia meanwhile found an apartment which she contracted and will move into on Tuesday. We have an appointment on Monday morning to view a potential place of our own. All in all, things are looking up, and we are so grateful for the Tandem staff team here who have provided bedding, food, and invaluable help in securing housing. Thank you, too, for your ongoing prayers!!

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2 Comments on “Flash Flood

  1. Hi Dan and Heather:

    This sounds like something meant to bring you discouragement…and we know where that comes from. May you only find strength as you recover from this trial.

    I am in prayer for you!

    Love, Meredith

    • Thanks, Meredith, I fully agree. We are giving thanks and trusting the Lord’s provision, but I know despair is right on the other side of the wall. I so appreciate your prayers and your words of truth, urging us on in this spiritual battle. God’s mercies are new every day, and He is good. Love, Heather

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