Wet -- 04/04/10

We had some rain here... as you may have seen on television.

When you turn on the weather channel and their current weather disaster story features reporters standing in the rain doing live reports from just twenty or thirty miles away, then you know you really are getting a lot of rain. As if you didn't know from looking out the window...

Or looking in your basement...

When we had first moved into this house, really prolonged heavy rainstorms could result in water in our basement, sometimes enough to make a puddle covering thirty square feet or so. The short term solution was the use of a shop vac to suck up the water; the long term solution was to add an extension to the downspout to direct water from the rain gutters away from the house.

Problem solved. Many years of a dry basement followed...

Tuesday morning -- a bit before 5:30 a.m. -- the phone rang. It was a message from the school system. School was cancelled for the day due to weather. It had been raining heavily (and this was the third major multi-day rainstorm in March... and that previous storm had caused serious flooding in many areas) so they were closing school because many roads were closed due to flooding, totally messing up school bus logistics.

After a cup of coffee and checking e-mail, I went down to the basement to check it out. There was a little bit of water on the floor -- as if someone had poured out the contents of one of those ubiquitous half liter plastic bottles of water. I thought that I should get out my old shop vac and clean up that water. I then came back up to my computers and resumed working. A hour or so later I decided to take a coffee break, check the basement, and perhaps find the shop vac in the garage and take it down to the basement to vacuum up that little puddle.

I discovered that the tiny puddle of water had grown... it was now covered an area of about ten feet by five feet. Quickly grab the shop vac, bring it down, plug it in, start sucking up that water. Suddenly the sound of the shop vac changed and I saw a stream of water shooting out through the side of its canister. The canister had rusted out and sprung a leak.

Dash upstairs and call Sears, well aware that this wasn't a rain storm that had just started and that flooding had been going on since the previous day. "Do you have any shop vacs in stock?" "The last one left is a two gallon display model and it is missing parts."

Phone Arnold Lumber, a large local hardware and building supply company. "Do you have any shop vacs in stock?" "Yes, we have one left." "It's mine! I'll be right there to buy it!"

Nice. A big one. Ten gallon capacity. ($85 plus tax.) This should take care of my problem quickly. Get back home, look down in the basement. The puddle is twice the size that it had been.

Start vacuuming. The tank fills. Remove the top and the hose, carry ten gallons of water up the stairs, through the kitchen, through the garage, pour the water down the driveway (which slopes away from the house and down towards the street. Return to basement, reassemble the machine, resume vacuuming. Repeat. Repeat again.

One gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds. Ten gallons of water weighs eighty-three and one half pounds. Later that afternoon Jeremy got home (URI cancelled afternoon classes due to the travel difficulties and water-logged parking lots on campus. (Their gymnasium that is dedicated to swimming was closed this week to repair flooding damage to its filter room following the previous storm.) By the time we began sharing the task, I had carried thirty-seven ten gallon loads up from the basement and out through the garage -- more than one and a half tons. After we began doing it together I lost count. The water continued to come in faster than we could remove it. By evening more than half the basement was flooded. We set up different patterns of work. Sometimes he would use the shop vac and I would scoop up water with a dustpan and dump it into a large plastic tub. When Jeremy filled the shop vac, we would pour its contents into my plastic tub and carry it upstairs together. Load after load. Sometimes we would think we were gaining on it but actually the water kept coming in faster than we could remove it. Even with Nancy and Jill and Jeremy and me all working at it, the water kept spreading.

I felt like Sisyphus, constantly struggling to roll that boulder up hill....

Sometime past ten o'clock that night I was on the verge of collapse. I didn't think I could carry another load of water. Jeremy made a phone call and four of his friends came over and Jill and Jeremy and his friends piled up things to try to keep things above the water level. I took a shower and collapsed in bed.

In the morning the entire basement was wall-to-wall water, but fortunately it was only ankle deep. (My next door neighbor's basement was eight inches deep... and the family across the street had water more than a foot deep -- and they had a finished basement with paneled walls and wall-to-wall carpeting.) We have a bulkhead entry to the basement from the back yard. I worked from that stairway, vacuuming up ten gallons of water, carrying it to the far side of our lot (the low side, so it would not flow back to the house), emptying the vacuum canister, then vacuuming up another ten gallons. This was another sisyphean task... The storm had ended and it was a sunny day but the ground was absolutely saturated and water continued to leak into the basement. I just couldn't gain on it.

I noticed a van parked in my neighbor's driveway -- CleanRite -- and a guy running long fat hoses into their basement. I had assumed that any pumping service would be so busy that they wouldn't be able to get to me until next week, but here was one right nextdoor. I ran over to him. "How big is your backlog of jobs?" He was doing two of my neighbors (he had already pumped out a house up the street) and, after a look in our basement, said he would squeeze us in when he'd finished with our two neighbors, noting that the charge would be $175 and hour and $125 an hour for any additional time. "Sold!" I cried... and took a shower and put on clean clothes and dry shoes and had something to eat and a cup of coffee and stopped worrying.

It took hours for him to get to us but finally he ran a hose down into our basement and began pumping the water out. It too a bit over an hour ($225 worth of pumping) and instead of an indoor lake we had a wet basement floor with some fair-sized puddles that looked like something I could easily finish off in an hour or two with my shop vac.

I began vacuuming up the remaining water. Two hours later I had made almost no headway at all. The far end of the basement (the area under my den) was now almost dry (with fans blowing on that area after I had vacuumed up the water) but the rest was still wet and the puddles seemed to be getting bigger. I finally gave up for the night, took a shower, and went to bed.

In the morning the basement was almost completely covered with water and the deepest area was about two inches deep. I called my new friends at CleanRite and asked for another pumping visit. It took a few hours before one of them could get to us but $175 later our basement was again pumped out and I went back to work with my shop vac. I got most of the rest vacuumed up but there were some areas that I could clear away but as soon as I moved to vacuum another area, that first area would fill with water again. Obviously, hydrostatic pressure was still pushing water into the basement. (In fact, Jill was amazed to watch me clear an area of concrete floor and move on and then have water begin to appear in the cleared spot, coming right up through the concrete looking just like condensation appearing on the side of a chilled glass.)

At some point -- Friday morning? -- time and events blur -- Nancy found out that Sears had a new shipment of electric pumps and I dashed over and got one -- $112 plus tax -- and hooked it up with a garden hose that went up the bulkhead stairs and around the side of the house and down to the street. Between that and my shop vac I was able to clear almost all of the remaining water from the basement and set up more fans. There were still some spots where water continued to seep in.

Yesterday morning there was a moderate amount of water in the basement and I used the electric pump until there was not enough water (it requires a water depth of 3/16 of an inch) and I would periodically return to vacuum it up and an hour later there would be more and I could come back and remove it... but by the end of the day there was just one spot by the bulkhead where new water would appear...

And this morning there was no new water in the basement!

Of course now we have to throw away stuff was ruined by the water and scrub with a bleach solution to get rid of any mold or mildew and... ah well, at least the seemingly endless pumping and vacuuming is over.

And we were so lucky to get by with relatively little damage. We are not in a flood zone. This was just a case of record-breaking amounts of rain on ground that was already saturated by previous storms. People who live near streams and rivers and ponds are the ones who have had tremendous amounts of damage. There have been story after story on the news about people who had just moved back into their houses after being evacuated due to flooding two weeks ago and now they are out again.

The Warwick Mall -- one of the major shopping malls in the state -- had four feet of water in their parking lot. I was told that on Wednesday one of the owners was in a rowboat checking out the damage inside the mall, floating down the hallways, the water inside was so deep that the only way to get around was by boat!

Interstate 95 was closed to traffic for two days because sections of the roadway was underwater. Amtrak service between New York and Boston was cancelled for days because miles of track (through our town) was underwater. Hundreds of families are still unable to return to their flooded homes -- and some of those homes are total loses. (And most home insurance policies explicitly exclude flood or storm water damage.) Roads are still closed. Potholes are everywhere. Many roads (and bridges) will require major repairs before they can be used.

So... as exhausted as I am... and as much as my back aches (and my legs and arms and hands) I really feel that we have been so lucky.

previous entry

next entry

To list of entries for 2010

To Home (Index) page