Early in February, Keenan Haramoto was one of the first in his Elwood neighborhood with a flooded basement as heavy winter snows melted. His 1909 home has withstood the Utah climate for over 100 years, but this year’s flooding has taken a heavy toll on his property. At its highest, the water reached 59 inches in Keenan’s basement, destroying his furnace and air conditioner and causing further damage to foundation cracks. Though Keenan and his wife Kasia pumped out most of the water, a week later they were hit again as heavy rain melted the remaining snow in the surrounding fields. Even their donkeys are suffering with foot problems, having had to stand in water or mud for the last several weeks.
Box Elder County Commissioner Stan Summers estimates that over 300 homes have been damaged by floodwaters. A combination of clay soil, heavy winter snowpack, and recent rain has caused saturated ground to flood areas in Box Elder County. Much of the flood water has streamed into basements through doors and windows, as well as seeping through foundation cracks. The strained drainage system has overflowed, causing backups in the sewer system as well.
Raw sewage “shot up at me and went up my nose, in my mouth,” says Carrie Ross, pointing at a small overflow drain in her basement. Since the sewage mixed with about a foot of flood water in her basement, Carrie says she is “salvaging what I can, washing it all.” Concerns about water quality have her and her children showering at a family member’s house in another county. They have moved everything out of basement bedrooms and ripped up the carpet, not sure if structural damage will force them out of their 1920s-era home. The sewage smell lingers in her damp basement, and mold is beginning to grow despite repeated bleach treatment as recommended by local authorities.
Though flood waters have largely abated, residents’ lives are still on hold. More snow and wet weather could cause the flood waters to return, and homes can’t be fixed until everything has thoroughly dried out. That might not be until summer for some residents. Kirt Womack feels lucky that his flood damage was minimal, not much more than ruined drywall and a burned out furnace in his basement storage room. However, some of his neighbors weren’t as lucky. Just across the road, a neighbor’s basement filled completely, destroying family treasures and causing enough damage that the residents have moved out. Kirt points out that this neighbor has since been hospitalized for unrelated medical issues, leaving others to continue the clean-up and move-out efforts.
And that is perhaps the thread of hope that is common to stories of this year’s flooding in Northern Utah. Kirt points out the friends cleaning his neighbor's house, as well as the city workers who he thinks “are working at least 100 hours a week,” the Syracuse football team who drove to Garland to fill and distribute sandbags, the lady from Salt Lake who drove around the neighborhood delivering homemade food to flood victims, and former residents who have come back just to help old friends. Carrie, who is struggling to fit her three children and all their belongings in the small upstairs portion of their home, mentions elderly neighbors she has been assisting and worrying about. Keenan received help from friends and family throughout his flooding, and then turned around to return the favor as flood waters moved from his yard to other areas.
For now, everyone in the Garland and Tremonton area is bracing for the possibility of more flooding. Volunteers and neighbors keep cleaning, but when everything dries out, the real work will begin. Structural damage, mold, and property loss from flood are rarely covered by insurance. Those without means to rebuild or repair may be forced out of homes.
For those who live too far away to fill sandbags or provide pumps and services, please consider a generous donation to United Way of Northern Utah’s Disaster Fund to help flood victims in their cleanup efforts. 100% of the fund money will be given directly to fund victims, to be distributed through a committee of local nonprofit and government representatives. Cleanup and recovery will be a long, expensive process. If we help each other as neighbors, all our small contributions will add up to meaningful assistance for these communities in their time of need.