I didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night. I’m a natural born worrier, and it was raining so hard I thought we were in the middle of a monsoon. It was one of those rains that usually only lasts a few minutes, but it went on for hours, and I was terrified of what that amount of rain would bring in the morning.
So I was shocked when I went out to feed at 5 a.m., and it wasn’t flooding. I expected the pastures to be full of water, but they weren’t. However, by 7 we knew we were in for it because the rain was coming down hard again, and the water had started to flow south toward us.
We didn’t think about evacuating at that point. The barn sits higher on the property and has never flooded before in the 15 years we’ve been here. We were more concerned about saving our cellar (power, furnaces and water heaters for the house are located there) and the office from which my parents’ two companies operate. But the water was coming in fast, and in three hours the pastures had 3 feet of water in them. By 8 it was pretty clear we were sunk. Unfortunately, our road has a dip in it, and the water was too high to get a trailer through, so the only way to get out was to start wading. It was scary at this point, and it had just begun.
I told my sister, Alison, and the two guys who work for us that we needed to take the yearlings and the pregnant mare first because the water was rising, and the current was getting even faster. One of the yearling colts was swept off the road, and I almost had a heart attack right then. Thankfully, Martin Flores was able to get him back. Thank God, they are so well behaved, and we got them to our community barn across the street safely; they generously allowed us to bring some of them there.
My mom, dad and little brother, Jordan, had grabbed another four, and we met them halfway. My mom said she had called 911, and they were sending boats, but they were going to take a while. Alison, Jordan and I jumped on bareback in halters and leads. (Jordan jumped on a 4-year-old, who was amazing.) I was ponying a pony that struggled so hard he almost pulled me off backward. By the time we got them to the barn, the water was too high to walk through, and we were the only ones there. We called my dad, and he said there was no way to get us. “Start swimming.” I was terrified about the rest of the horses making it out. So we basically swam back to our farm in the freezing cold, nasty water full of debris and snakes.
As we were swimming down the driveway towards home, we were greeted by the most wonderful surprise. The world’s best neighbors at Northern Tradition Farm (a Saddlebred Farm) had come over to help evacuate our horses. Our vets at Premier Equine and our feed store owner at Brothers Supply had also come to help; it was unbelievable the help we were getting. We had 21 to evacuate including seven stud colts, one pregnant mare and three yearlings! I could not believe how fast the water had risen in that short time we were gone; we later found out the horses farther to the north of us were tied to trees with just their heads sticking out by the time they were able to be evacuated.
I grabbed a 2-year-old colt that was wild from my dad and started taking him down to Northern Traditions. When we got them all to Northern Traditions about 1½ miles away, our vet, Dr. Yanchik, called around to find us a barn where the last 13 horses could stay until they could go home. Autumn Lane Farm, about 35 minutes away, generously allowed us to move in for a few days. Bob and Tom, the owners of Northern Traditions, started trucking horses over. It was scary going though because most of the roads around us were closed.
It was now about 2:30 p.m. I found out that our three dogs (two Irish Wolfhounds and a Bernese Mountain Dog) had gone out in a canoe down to Northern Traditions. I tried to get back to the farm to see my mom, whom I hadn’t seen since the morning. But then our other vet, Dr. Powers, and I were able to get a rescue boat to take us to Ellis House to check on that farm and our eight horses there; nobody had been there since morning, and we were worried that barn was going to start flooding. The water was only 10 feet from the barn door, but we made the decision and hoped and prayed we were doing the right thing by leaving them there; the water they’d have to through to leave was 5 feet high, and they were already tired from their earlier journey.
When the rescue team got us back to the road, I decided to go home to check on my mom, the house and the farm. Luckily, one of the county workers had a big farm tractor and gave me a ride the ½ mile home. I had no idea what I was in for! Our basement was completely full of water, and the windows had caved in. If it had gone up another inch or two our first floor would’ve flooded. The barn had 2½ feet of standing water, and our jumps were floating down the road. We had no power, no water and no way of getting out. I have never been so cold and wet in my life; I could not stop shaking.
However, I wasn’t done yet. At about 4 p.m. my dad, my mom’s business partner and I started to canoe over to the barn across the street to feed those horses. They hadn’t been over there and didn’t believe me when I told them how high the water was. We fed them and were so lucky to find the barn hadn’t yet flooded. The fun was yet to come!! On our way back through the fields, we flipped the canoe in 5 feet of water. We thought we were going to drown. Luckily, one of the community barn volunteers had just jet boated over, and they picked us up and took us home.
Finally, we could all change into dry clothes and try to get warm. We were all exhausted and defeated. My mom had been on the phone all afternoon finding out insurance wouldn’t cover anything, and there was more destruction than we ever thought possible. The single greatest thing was that everybody—animals, people and all—were completely safe. It was one of the hardest, most scary days of my life, but it really brought a smile to my face and made me realize how lucky we are to have had so many people jump in to help us. But it was only the beginning.
Read about the clean-up efforts in Taylor Flury’s next blog. On April 18, record-setting amounts of rain led to severe flooding in areas around Chicago. Eleven counties were declared federal disaster areas, and 49 counties were declared state disaster areas.