Living With Nature
English 50
Wendy Mills

Nature at its best is unpredictable. It is often that it has to remind us that we are not in control of it. Many of us take advantage of everything that we are given. Most of all we forget to be thankful for the many beautiful things we are given every day. If it wasn’t for nature we could not grow crops, raise animals for food, build shelters or make clothes. Nature showers us with many things and only when we are negligent to give some appreciation for what we have received. Nature has many ways of showing us just how brutal it can be when necessary. Avalanches, blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, etc.

The flood that occurred in the early part of nineteen ninety-seven was just such a show of force. Although the flood affected many areas in California, i am going to write about the devastation it caused in Modesto. One small trailer park in particular. On January 2, 1997 the Tuolumne River overflowed its banks and flooded Modesto on three sides. The trailer parks on River Road in South Modesto were badly damaged by the flood. These parks are filled with low income families who survive from month to month on stipends from the government. Many, if not all of them had no flood insurance or insurance of any kind. Not because they refused to pay high insurance rates, but because they simply couldn’t afford the extra bill.

It is a ragtag bunch of people who formed the little communities inside the parks. Most of the people were respectable enough to be a member of the park and the residents’ banded together to keep troublemakers out. When people were away from homes for any length of time, neighbors could be counted on to watch over treasured belongings and keep intruders away. When a crisis occurred for a resident such as the death of a family member, other residents would offer their condolences and try to help out in any way that they could.

Riverside Driftwood Trailer Park is located on River Road. You can reach River Road from various directions, but if you are coming from downtown Modesto you will have to go over the Ninth Street Bridge. You take a right off the bridge and go down and under the bridge to get to River Road. Turning left on to River you will see several trailers and a few small houses lining the left side of the road. The first driveway you come to on the left-hand side of the street is the driveway for Terrace Trailer Park.

Riverside Driftwood is the next trailer park. When you approach the park can see that a small store is directly across from the double driveways. A large blue and white sign says welcome to the park and directs you to the manager’s office. Be sure if you are visiting the park that you go down the right driveway or someone is sure to point it out to you.

At the time of the flood Charlotte Dehart and her husband Carl were the managers of the park. They had been residents of the park for a few years before becoming managers and did fairly good job of running the park. Many of the residents were older people who had been living in the park for several years. Some were younger people with kids. Most of the trailers were older models and two or three of them had been originally owned by residents who had been the first in the park when it opened in the fifties. Only the real old timers of the park had ever experienced the park being flooded, and that hadn’t happened in nearly thirty years.

In December of nineteen ninety-six, it had rained several inches swelling several sections of the Tuolumne River in Stanislaus County. Residents of Riverside driftwood had taken turns at watching the water meter to see how many inches the ricer had risen. Water from the melting snow in the higher elevations were adding to tthe increasingly high amount of water in the Don Pedro Dam.

At the end of December, residents were told that several gallons of water was being let out of the dam to allow room for the incoming water. People made the necessary precautions and were relieved that the river had only overflowed its banks and come into the park only a few feet. The only damage the river did at that time was to leave a bunch of stinking mud on the lower level. Residents’ breathed a collective sigh of relief and went about putting things in order. No one knew that soon their lives would be forever changed by the usually peaceful and slow moving river.

I interviewed one of the former residents of Riverside Driftwood Trailer Park to see how the flood affected her life and the life of her family. Her name is Debbie Costa and this is what she told me. She told me that at the time of the flood that she had recently been divorced from her husband and was raising her two sons alone. She also told me that at the time of the flood that she was recovering from back surgery and that only a few short months before she had lost her mother. So she was already dealing with a tremendous amount of pain and grief before the flood happened. She had recently brought her children home from their father’s house because she hadn’t been able to care for them right after surgery.

Even though the residents of the park were given a forewarning that the controllers of Don Pedro Dam were going to release several million gallons of water that would flood the park, none of them were ready for the devastation it would cause. Residents were told on the second of January that they had only until six o’clock in the evening to remove as much of their belongings as they could because the water had already been released. It would take several hours before the water would hit the Tuolumne River and cause it to once again overflow its banks and flood the park. People scurried about moving their trailers out our gathering up whatever they could save. Debbie said she was overcome with a feeling over hopelessness as friends packed her belongings for her.

By the time six o’clock arrived, most of the residents had moved out whatever they could. Neighbors helped neighbors place furniture on top of each other in the hopes that some it could be saved. Others helped pack up breakables in trailers they were to be moved out of the park. Animals that lived in the park were caught and put on leashes or put into vehicles out of harm’s way. People gathered together at the top of the hill to watch the frightening scene below.

Dark, sinister, looking water crept slowly into the park and gradually covered the first level, and then the second and third. Trailers were unmovable were soon swallowed by the watery jaws. Everyone watched in stunned silence as the water rose higher and higher. Someone’s garbage can floated down the water and brought nervous laughter from those who watched.

In the days following the flooding of the parks, people donated clothing, blankets, and food for the victims. The American Red Cross set up a mobile across the street in the store parking lot and served hot meals to people. Debbie was among many at that time that thanked everyone for all the support the survivors of the flood had received from various agencies and individuals. It helped her and others through an incredibly difficult time in her life. The flood had brought many more changes into her life that she wasn’t ready for. For the last two years, she has lived in rented house and doesn’t like the fact that someone else has control over her life and the lives of her children. In the trailer park she had owned her trailer, and only paid a rent space. Both her children had to adjust to living somewhere else. They had lived in the park since they were infants and it was the only permanent home that had known.

Despite all the problems they have had to endure over the last few years since the flood, they are aware that things could have been worse. So many people had lost their lives or family members in other areas of the state where flooding had occurred. No one in the park lost anyone they loved. Even though it was a traumatic and heart-wrenching thing to go through; neither she not or children have experienced any long-term mental problems because of it. Neither has the family dog Gretchen. Although Debbie was recovering from back surgery, none of them sustained any serious injuries. She believes that someone was watching over them all on that terrible night.

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