Gail’s Memories of the Flood of ’51

Last month, I posted a pieced-together account of the 1951 flood, but now I have recovered Mom’s account of it using the Wayback Machine. Here is Gail Lee Martin’s story of that event.

“My husband and I with our four children were living 3 miles northwest of Madison in northern Greenwood County, Kansas in the summer of 1951. We had never had to worry about the river, as it was a good half-mile away. But in 1951, after several days of steady rain, the Verdigris river became fuller than ever before.

While we were asleep the river started backing up every creek and stream that normally flowed into it. When our youngest woke up in her baby bed and began to cry at the sight of water in our bedroom, she woke us up. What a shock it was to swing my warm feet into cold, muddy, river water.

The river had silently backed up the tiny stream nearby and overflowed everywhere. It had slowly crept into our back porch on the ground level, then up higher and higher above the two cement block high foundation, before spreading its dirty mess into our house.

We waded around through the house trying to put everything up high on cabinets, the sink, and the stove because they were already standing in two foot of water.

When we first discovered the situation, the water in the county road was already three foot deep, so all we could do was watch the water rise higher and higher to the door handles of our car, parked in the driveway.

Our children, Owen, Susan, Ginger and the baby, Cindy were wild with the excitement of actually ‘wading’ in the house, until they saw the rabbit hutches had tipped over into the water drowning their beloved pets. We never had swift water, I think my terror came from the silence as the water just steadily flowed backward, rising higher all the time.

My brother-in-law, Norman Harlan, waded in from the shallowest west side and helped carry the children to safety. Our toddler ran out to jump into his arms and not being able to tell where the floor ended, she stepped off into the water and would have sunk if he hadn’t been quick to grab her.

Norman_Melba_and_family_Vicki_1_Timothy_6_Robert_3

Gail’s sister, Melba and Melba’s husband, Norman Harlan in 1949. Their children – Vicki, Tim and Bob.

I’ll never forget the beautiful breakfast my sister, Melba, had ready when my bedraggled, wet family arrived on her doorstep.

Of course, the rain did quit, the water went slowly away and we were left to clean out the mud and haul away what couldn’t be saved. Our children held a quiet funeral and mass burial of their pets.

To this day, some of our furniture has knee-high water marks, sad reminders of what can happen while you sleep.”

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