A man stood in the doorway of his home, up to his chin in rising water. But he wouldn’t get in the boat.
Not until his cats were rescued.
Another, a World War II veteran who has told tales of escaping a prisoner-of-war camp, refused to leave his home. The water rose above his walker.
Frantic parents with screaming young children. Cats and dogs. A man who retreated from his porch to his attic.
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Jeff Graydon remembers the looks of fear in all their eyes the morning of Oct. 4 as he pulled up to their east Columbia houses in a johnboat, rescuing some two dozen or more from the floodwaters of Lake Katherine and Gills Creek.
“They’re in fear of losing their lives. ... They’re not thinking straight,” Graydon said. “That fear, I’ve never seen it before.”
Graydon had walked outside his Kilbourne Road house around 5 a.m. Sunday, having been up half the night worried about the creek. He expected to walk down the street and assess the water level. Instead, he was met by it at the end of his driveway.
He ran inside to rouse his “other half,” Janet Enoch, and his 27-year-old son, Hunt, and told them to grab their cellphones and chargers. With minutes precious to their survival, Graydon thought to consider the survival of one more thing: his grandfather’s grandfather clock, an 1860s heirloom. The trio hoisted the clock onto Graydon’s bed before escaping outside through waist-deep water.
“I was petrified,” Enoch said. “I was afraid I was going to lose my life.”
Enoch took with her a bottle of water, her cellphone and her mother’s wedding band from 70 years of marriage. It was all she had time to save.
“I really wasn’t thinking about the material things,” she said.
I was afraid I was going to lose my life.
As the sun returned later in the week and began to dry their flood-drenched lawn, Enoch and Graydon gutted their house and laid out their every possession on the ground. Scattered chairs and tables, chests of drawers. On the window of Enoch’s car, parked in the driveway and ruined by the flood, she taped a family photograph at the water line “to remind me of what’s important,” she said.
All along the street, their neighbors followed suit, piling their material lives in their lawns. Many of them were alive to do so only thanks to Graydon and his buddy with a johnboat.
After reaching the home of Enoch’s 93-year-old father farther up the street on higher ground that morning, Graydon began thinking about his neighbors, figuring many might still be sleeping.
“I started getting real antsy,” Graydon said. “I cannot sit here. I’ve got to do something.”
He called his next-door neighbor, only to find out the family was trapped. And that’s when Graydon moved into action.
On his way out, he was met by John Bradshaw, who had come from outside the neighborhood with a johnboat to rescue his parents from their Burwell Lane house.
Over the next several hours, the pair rode through the neighborhood, battling the winds and current and ramming the boat up to people’s houses to ferry them to safety.
That fear, I’ve never seen it before.
When they banged on the door of the World War II veteran, Mr. Fowler – as Graydon addresses him, not knowing his first name – his wife called from inside the house, “Are you here to rob us?” Graydon recalled.
Having urged the woman into the boat, Graydon found Fowler standing waist-deep in water, refusing to budge. The boat left and came back a half-hour later, Graydon said, to find Fowler even more determined to stay.
It wasn’t until the next day that Graydon learned Fowler had been coaxed to safety.
It also was the next day when much of the neighborhood began to take stock of the devastation the flood had brought to their lives, which they were thankful to still have intact.
“Shock. Sad. But hopeful,” Enoch said to describe how she felt when she saw her ruined home last Monday. “The thing I’ll miss the most is being able to have everybody come over. ... It’s just been such a place to gather. But we’ll do that again.”
“This stuff I’m looking at, it’s stuff,” she said, standing in her front lawn last week. “It’s heart-wrenching. It’s really not replaceable. It’s everything we have.
“But we’ll survive this, because we’re alive.”
Sarah Ellis: 803-771-8307