In those frantic moments, many residents left behind their most prized possessions. Lives are more important than objects.
As officials concentrate on finding missing residents, damage assessments and recovery, evacuees are returning to their ravaged communities. Some are finding that their belongings have been destroyed. Others are clutching their damaged possessions, but don't know if they will last. Those who don't know what happened to their things are hoping they survived, somehow.
Whatever the outcome, the stories behind the items they left behind will stay with them.
—David Tiller, mandolin.
As he sat astride his mountain bike on the deserted Main Street in Lyons, which was among the biggest towns heavily damaged in the deluge, Tiller, a bluegrass musician, was thinking about the electric five-string mandolin he left as the water rose.
A friend carved it for him 20 years ago, when he was first starting out, and stamped the inlay work with symbols of their relationship, including a hand holding a baby. His family had taken only instruments and recording equipment with them, leaving all their clothes and even their toothbrushes behind at their home.
"The studio that it was in doesn't exist anymore. There's water rushing right through it. So it's down the river somewhere," Tiller said, talking quickly and nervously about his lost mandolin.
When he began to talk about the musicians who came to play in his home studio, though, he slowed down and he almost smiled. He was a week from finishing one of their records.
Now, he doesn't know when it will be done.
—Enion Pelta, 1930s-era wedding dress.
For Pelta, getting wedding rings was easy, and so was arranging the entertainment for the reception. The shopping for her dress, however, wasn't.
She didn't often go shopping with her mother, an academic who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, so when they went hunting through San Francisco thrift stores for her wedding dress, it was an extra-special occasion.
"We never did the mother-daughter bonding thing," she said. They were always having "intellectual discussions" instead.
She had planned to wear the lacey dress from the 1930s again to renew her vows with her husband of nine years.
The white antique was now beneath a muddy, newly-formed river in Lyons.
—Carmel Ross, kiln.
Ross tried to dig her kiln out from where the flood lodged it beneath her mobile home in Lyons, but it was wedged too deeply.
She used the kiln in her raku beadwork, a type of Japanese pottery. Seeing it damaged, she was reminded of her youth in the 1950s, when she said her parents didn't agree with her pursuing a life in art.
"I wasn't brought up in an era that honored art or artists," she said, as she prepared to evacuate, her long gray hair swinging as she cleared space to tear out muddy carpet. Her home was littered with sheet music, spirituality books and gear from her days as a professional clown.
It's taken Ross a lifetime and a move to an artists' community to embrace the importance of her work. Now, the rebuilding begins.
— Glenn Scott, African violet.
For evacuees like Scott, the loss of a dearly held possession is not sudden, but in slow motion.
As Scott prepared to leave Lyons, he was wondering if his African violet would survive. It was a gift from his mother, who owned an African violet store like her mother before her, and spent her life cocooned in a world of flowers.
She died a couple of years ago, he said.
Scott is hoping the delicate, bluish-purple-flowered violet, a traditional mother's day present, will survive in his car in the weeks ahead. "I always killed them, and then she'd give me another one and I'd kill that one. But I've had this one for three years," he said.
He's not hopeful that it will survive, but he will try.
"It's the last one I have that she had," he said.
Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier.
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