Daily scrutiny of the water level has become an inconvenient pastime for many residents living on the banks of lower Clear Creek near Kooskia. While it was expected that flood waters from the major event on April 9 would recede and become a thing of the past, property owners are at a loss as to how they can protect their land without stepping on bureaucratic toes.
“I’ve lived here for 52 years and it has flooded several times before, but never like this,” said Don Haukedahl whose property skirts Clear Creek.
“You see earthquakes and floods and things on TV but you never really think it’s going to happen to you,” said Carmen Morris-Howard, as she described how it felt to see fast flowing water surrounding her home just across the way from Haukedahl.
According to several area residents who wish to remain anonymous, an incident which occurred years ago regarding a neighbor who took things into his own hands to protect his property, has many fearing retribution if they tamper with the encroaching water.
Morris-Howard stood on a high spot of what used to be her driveway on Monday morning, tears welling in her eyes as she scanned the ever deepening streams of flood water surrounding her home. “I just can’t believe it,” she cried. “It’s even worse than yesterday!” The impending loss of everything she owns and the sheer torture of watching the creek devour the residence she worked so hard for has Morris-Howard in a perpetual nightmare.
This isn’t the first time 74-year-old widow Morris-Howard has faced heart breaking loss. An earthquake shook her home in California and demolished not only her residence, but it shook her independent, self-sufficient nature, leaving her feeling vulnerable and defenseless. She had finally recovered from her emotional scars when she made her home on Clear Creek, developing a life that would fulfill her financial needs after retirement.
“I was visiting my daughter in Los Angeles when this all started,” began Morris-Howard. “I got a call from my renters and they said the creek was rising and there was water coming really close to the house. I told them to just get out and not worry about anything.”
Realizing the phone call from her frightened tenants was more than just a little concern on their part; Morris-Howard contacted her neighbor downstream to find out more information. She was told to get home right away as the situation had gone from bad to worse.
“I didn’t know the whole place just floated away,” said Morris-Howard, pointing in the direction of the mobile home that was completely relocated hundreds of feet downstream.
“Because the creek is following the path of least resistance, it has cut through what was once her yard, rerouting the main stream around her home, which was beside the rental which washed away,” said Cindy Lane who is a friend of Morris-Howard and has taken her in until she can find a permanent residence. “Her home is surrounded on all sides by water. Her well is within the stream current and the septic is covered by water as well. Her belongings are still in her home and she hopes to retrieve them. Carmen has suffered a triple whammy, losing her rental as well as the associated income, her own home, and the real estate that she once owned that washed downstream.”
Lane has stepped up and taken action to help her friend manage a situation that, for now, has no solution.
The Red Cross was contacted and has been able to provide Morris-Howard with a small amount of financial assistance, but they are unable to aid her in recovering any of her precious keepsakes from the home until the flood waters recede enough to safely cross. “We can’t get anyone in there to get her stuff unless it’s safe to do so,” said Red Cross representative Denise Bacon. “We just can’t risk anyone’s safety even though we really want to be able to help her.”
As of Tuesday, Clear Creek had not relented and continued to push sizeable uprooted trees further downstream; causing the swollen brown water to carve out new pathways all the way to the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery.
Meanwhile, wary residents along the raging creek continue their vigil to protect their property with whatever means they can that won’t put them at risk for future retribution from state or federal government entities wishing to conserve the local wildlife.
“If there were any fish eggs at all in this creek, I think it’s safe to say they’re all washed downstream by now,” said Haukdauhl with a chuckle.
While the idea of hauling in rock to divert areas of the creek back to its natural pathway has definitely come up in conversation many times, residents feel as though their hands are tied. Boiling just under the surface is the reality that they are prohibited from any attempt at correcting their current predicament.
Unable to afford flood insurance, Morris-Howard’s future hangs in the balance while she prays the creek will not rise any further.
If anyone wishes to help, there is an account set up in the name of Carmen Morris-Howard at Freedom Northwest Credit Union. She is in need of an affordable place to live and would very much like to be reunited with her beloved cat that is currently being cared for by a friend.
Anyone who feels they can help with other issues regarding Morris-Howard can contact Cindy Lane at (208) 816-8489.