Ten years ago this week, the town of Columbus, Indiana, and the surrounding area endured devastating flooding after severe rains dumped more than 10 inches of water in the area. More than 8400 evacuations and water rescues were made, the National Guard was mobilized, and an area hospital, Columbus Regional, was evacuated.
While St. Francis Hospital Indianapolis (now Franciscan Health Indianapolis) and other Indianapolis area hospitals reached out to support patients, staff members and physicians, the needs didn’t end when the work shift did. Many employees reached out after hours to serve their neighbors in need. Below are excerpts from our employee newsletter, In touch, that featured some of the stories of the flood of 2008.
- Nathan Lowder, Franciscan Health Mooresville Emergency Department manager
It was dark and raining at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 7, when Nathan Lowder arose as usual to feed his livestock. “It was just like every other day,” he said. But it wasn’t.
Lowder is a volunteer firefighter with the Morgantown Volunteer Fire Department, and he soon received a call to help shut down State Road 252 because of high water. He thought it was odd until, as the morning light began to seep under the rain clouds, he peered out over a hill and noticed the entire valley below him had flooded.
In his four-wheel-drive Dodge truck, Lowder, RN, CEN, headed toward 252. He tried three different roads—stopped each time by high water—before realizing he was stuck right where he was.
“Even where there wasn’t a creek, the water was just roaring over the roads,” said Lowder. He was receiving frequent calls about motorists being stranded, yet he couldn’t get to them to help.
Lowder did what he could. He blocked Morgantown Road with his truck, its blue fire emergency light lit, to keep motorists from entering the high water. He knew the fast-moving water could be a death trap to unsuspecting motorists. As the day passed, Lowder checked a nearby dam for stability and eventually received an assignment from the emergency mobile command center in Martinsville to retrieve a woman who was stranded and suffering chest pain. With the woman’s husband in tow, Lowder followed two other rescue vehicles to the south side of Martinsville.
The three vehicles quickly ran into trouble.
Ahead of them stretched 300 yards of water rushing across State Road 37. “I thought, ‘My God, this is bad.’”
The water was blasting through three 10-foot-tall culverts under the highway like it does through the nozzle of a hose, and water flooded the land on either side. Beside the highway sat the farm Lowder’s family has owned for generations. He said his father had never seen flooding like this. The only option was to try to cross the rushing water. Lowder anxiously watched while the first rescue truck slowly crept through the water.
He thought to himself, “I’m going to watch him roll off there” and tumble over the 10- to 20-foot drop on the side of the highway into deep water. He looked at the woman’s husband in his passenger seat, rolled down his window and said, “If something happens, you’ve got to swim.” “I can’t swim,” he responded.
Lowder braced himself for the worst. He put his truck in first gear and slowly drove through the water. He knew he was in danger.
“If we had gotten swept away, we would have died,” he said. “The water would have turned the truck over, and we would have been stuck under the water.” The two made it safely across, retrieved the panicked woman and started to return. Lowder did not have emergency equipment to care for the patient, so he took her medical history as he drove and concentrated on getting her safely to the other side. They entered the water for a second time. The three returned safely.
“There are so many more heroes than will ever be known,” he said. Lowder doesn’t consider his own actions heroic and is quick to point out that there were countless people helping others that day. “When (disasters) happen, people pull together and do the best they can to help. They find their niche. My niche? Help drive a truck.”
- Stephanie Brock, Manager, Franciscan Health Mooresville Center for Women & Children
For the Brock family, helping after the flood has been a part of their everyday lives. Relaxing weekends and soothing summer days have been replaced by the family’s efforts to help those impacted by the Morgan County flooding: trudging through muck and mold to help clean up a fellow church member’s home, bringing donated supplies from the hospital’s Mom & Baby Drive to the local Red Cross shelter and helping train Community Emergency Response Team volunteers on basic first aid and disaster recovery. “We talk a lot about how lucky we are,” said Stephanie Brock, RN, a mother of two. Her husband, Steve, coordinates the emergency medical division of Morgan County’s disaster plan. “We talk about how this could have been us, and we focus on God’s grace.”
- Barb Bowers, nurse practitioner, Franciscan Physician Network Neurosurgical Specialists
Many volunteers recall flood victims reacting that “at least I didn’t lose a loved one.” And some volunteers help bring closure when they do.
By day, Barb Bowers, NP-C, nurse practitioner, assists with neurosurgery. At night in June, she scoured Bartholomew County, helping with the county’s search and rescue effort for a missing man swept away by floodwaters in his truck days before. Bowers and her German shepherd, Java, have worked search and rescue for six years, focusing mainly on recovery efforts. They assisted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in Evansville after the 2005 tornadoes, but nothing like this so close to home.
Her first call came that Saturday morning. She spent 14-hour days searching for victims and survivors through mud and floodwaters up to her knees. “There’s a lot of pain, but you are just focused on getting the task done,” Bowers said. “It’s almost an addiction. You don’t think about the pain, the heat. You just work with the dog at the task at hand.
“I went down Saturday and Sunday, helped Dr. [Karsten] Fryburg in surgery on Monday…and was back down with the dog and recovered a body Monday night.”
Bowers was among the team of volunteers, sheriff’s deputies and dogs that helped bring answers to the family of Stephen Gates, found a mile downstream from where he was washed away in Haw Creek. “This has been the most heart-wrenching yet rewarding work I have had the pleasure of performing,” she said. “It does bring closure to the families.”
Despite the many hours spent in recovery efforts, Bowers was back to help flood victims the following weekend. She recalls that people of all walks of life came together to help those in greater need. Boy Scouts. Prisoners. Church groups. Volunteers young and old.
“The most remarkable was it was strangers helping strangers,” she said. “I saw more hope and caring than anything.”
- Rob Whalen, Director of Rehabilitation Services, Franciscan Health Indianapolis
When members from Saints Francis and Clare Catholic parish arrived to help clean up a fellow parishioner’s flood-rampaged home in southwest Greenwood, the homeowner’s biggest concern was her neighbors.
“She was sitting here with a devastated house, but she was asking, do we have enough people to assist some of her neighbors,” said Rob Whalen, a member of the parish. “That was the most touching thing for me.”
Whalen was among those who helped residents in five houses at the intersection of Paddock and Old Smith Valley roads recover shortly after the flood. They provided physical assistance—like removing water-damaged household items, floors and dry wall— as well as personal assistance—like helping locate services and providing lunch and emotional support. Nearby were volunteers from several churches, all coming together to help parishioners and community members in the time of need. They were living by the example of St. Francis himself.
“There are people in need, and we have the ability to provide some assistance,” said Whalen. “That’s an essential part of living out your faith.”
By Robbie Schneider & Corie Farnsley