Things to Rescue From the Water

Possibly the homeliest post pic ever. The busted gray thing was an expansion tank that exploded when our house water pressure regulator suddenly failed.


Forgive my brevity, dear TKZers. The above photo may give you a hint as to what my week has been like. Last Wednesday night, I was practically walking on rarified air after I’d (successfully) interviewed writer Jodi Picoult in front of 900 readers at St. Louis County Headquarters. (Successful being defined as no one laughing me offstage, and I didn’t faint. Others’ definitions may differ!) I was just tucking up in bed when I noticed I had two missed calls from our alarm company. I’d missed them because my phone had gone into sleep mode. Husband was home, alone, with the animals. Talk about alarming.

After the responding police (!) left him (he’s a deep sleeper and didn’t hear the blaring horn sounds coming from the alarm unit), he texted me as he  looked around the inside of the house. Nothing appeared to be amiss–except for an inch of water in the back half of the house. Yes, four bedrooms, a mudroom, and a long hallway were all wet.

I felt helpless being two hours away, unable to do anything besides offer advice. Hero Husband managed to shut off the water to the house, and swept and vacced for several hours. If not for those missed calls and the pounding of the police on the door, the entire house would’ve been a loss. As it was, our biggest loss was flooring.

What did I ask him to rescue? A big box containing…books. Of course. Not that surely soggy box full of professional photos of a previous marriage (mine), and various high school and college certificates and yearbooks. Not the exercise equipment bits and bobs. Not whatever mysterious debris lay sodden on the floor of my son’s room. Only the books felt important.

Once home late Thursday morning, I rescued other damp things. But I made sure my books were safe and dry, first. (Really should’ve gotten rid of those wedding photos 28 years ago anyway, right?)

They weren’t particularly precious books, or rare. Ebay probably has other copies. But they weren’t the same copies. Then, as a good friend and I emptied those four bedrooms of belongings and more books, it occurred to me that life would’ve been a lot easier if all of my books were digital instead of paper. It was a brief thought, which I then banished to the  Outer Dark. I must have been very tired or something to have even had that thought at all.

So, gentle readers, what objects would you save first if your house flooded itself?



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About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at

23 thoughts on “Things to Rescue From the Water

  1. I’d first save my family bible that lists all the births, marriages, and deaths in my family line back to the 1600’s. I also have a quilt from the 1700’s that one of my ancestors made. Both are irreplaceable. Then I’d grab my family photos. If I still had time, I’d bundle up my Mac, CPU, laptop, Kindle, and books. 😉

    • What a great list, Sue. So many precious things. How cool to have the Bible to ground you so solidly in your family history.

      The vast percentage of family photos were in plastic bins. Though one had cracked on the bottom. I only had to dry about 200 of them!

  2. So sorry to hear of your ordeal. I had the same experience, except during the Harvey flood I had over two feet of water in my first floor. The filthy flood water came in really fast, so I grabbed whatever I could reach and quickly carry upstairs. I lost about 250 books and many other things, including old pictures, family heirlooms, and my piano. Later this year when I move into my elevated new home, I won’t have to worry about flooding, and my alarm system will warn of any plumbing leaks.

    • Oh, Millie. That is a true tragedy. I hope you were able to rescue at least some of your precious objects. How exciting to be moving to a new, elevated home!

      We are SO grateful that our glass break alarm was listening when the tank exploded. Especially since Husband was dead to the world asleep.

  3. Oh man, Laura, can I relate. I have endured THREE home floods in five years. First was a broken bathroom pipe two floors above our condo — flooded our place at 11 p.m. at night and we were saved by quick response of Servpro cleanup guys. This happened the night before I was scheduled to go in for major surgery. Lost our beautiful cherry floors and were out of our house eight weeks. Ugh…

    Second was a kitchen pipe in our Tallahassee home. Slow leak that we didn’t notice until too late. Warped 3/4 of our beautiful Georgian pine floors and the carpets. Out of our house for nine weeks.

    While we were recovering from the Tallahassee flood, we got word that our Michigan condo had a pipe burst due to extreme cold. Took out our kitchen and the two condos below us. We remodeled our kitchen from 1200 miles away thanks to the care of a terrific contractor we found up here. When we got up here in May, we still didn’t have a working kitchen. But things back to normal by June. Can’t believe I can say this, but our insurance folks were great.

    What would I save? Geez…I actually think about that in case of fire evacuation. My dogs first of course, and maybe my old sock monkey that has been with me for 65 years. Beyond that, I don’t know. Perhaps some old photo albums. But then again, there are some pictures in there that I would want to burn before I die in case someone has to clean out my junk!

    Hope your home is back to normal soon!

    • Kris, this is stunning. So many beautiful floors! Our first house had original 1906 cherry planks, and I’ve missed them for over 20 years now. With all those displacements I’m impressed that you didn’t curl up and cry and just cover everything in ceramic tile!

      Pets are definitely a given. Lives are what’s truly important.

  4. Hugs on the mess, and cool on Jodi Picoult. She’s an awesome and brave writer.

    As someone who has dealt with a surprising amount of mild flood damage courtesy of gullywashers and tropical storms as well as the evil that is water heaters, I have three important suggestions. Fans on everything beyond their apparent dryness. Rotating fans if you have them. Air cleaners or ion producers help with mold and the stench. Now is also the time to reconsider where you store stuff or if you need stuff. A bonus suggestion, plastic storage containers with tight or water-tight lids.

    As the current homeplace owner of all the family heirlooms, mainly pictures dating from Reconstruction to the near present, and a few objects that I haven’t given to my brother whose kids will be the only ones to carry on the family name, I’ve done everything I can to protect them. Some years back, I made digital copies of the pictures, birth & death records, etc., and burned them into CDs, and gave my siblings and their adult kids a copy. That’s taken a great deal of stress from me in case of a fire. Everything else is well above flood line unless it’s Biblical.

    What I’d grab? My writer and homeowner bug-out bag. (Thank you NCIS for that name.) Link below if you are interested in suggested contents. I don’t have a smart phone, but if I did, I’d make sure I had copies or links to my insurance polices, etc. so I’d have that and would shove the phone into my bug-out bag.

    • Thanks, Marilynn!
      Future generations will appreciate your thoughtfulness and thoroughness so much. Good for you.

      Thanks for the link. Everyone should have one of these!

  5. Aw, Laura, I really feel for you!

    Four floods at our house: three from frozen pipes that burst in the basement; one leak inside the wall that started on the top story and seeped undetected for months, necessitating tear-outs of walls on all four levels of the house.

    Plus, at a rental garage, mice got in as well as a burglar who ransacked the unit–guess he figured my collection of personally autographed books wouldn’t buy him a fix but did he have to dump them on the wet floor?

    Marilynn’s excellent suggestions reminded me it’s time again to back up on thumb drives and external hard drives. Plus email important documents and photos to myself and friends (the poor writer’s cloud storage).

    Fans and dehumidifiers are a must. As Marilynn says, run them for a lot longer than when things *appear* dry because wood beams are sponges. We also lined our basement with pallets to get stuff up off the concrete floor. That helps when the flood is less than 3-4″ deep.

    Wishing you the best, Laura!

    • Wow, Debbie. So much dreadful experience–I’m so sorry for you.

      That’s terrible about the rental unit! Did they ever catch the burglar? And signed first editions are totally irreplaceable.

      Our furniture is mostly in the garage. Wish I’d had time to get pallets before Stanley Steemer got to work. But I do have the mattresses and other upholstery wrapped in tarps.

  6. Oh, man, Laura, I am so sorry. This is a question I ponder often, since we live in an evacuation zone in hurricane country. In an emergency, I pack up my husband, both cats and our wedding photos. Our paintings are taken off the walls and put in a “safe” windowless room, along with treasured breakable knickknacks. I also pack up my computer and move it, too, and put all my flash drives in a Ziplock and take them with me. But I know I will lose my library, with many autographed books. Then we leave and hope. Wishing you all the best.

    • A friend lost almost everything because of Katrina. Anyway, one of the things that upset her the most was the copies of her many published books, over thirty at the time. A group of us scrounged through our bookcases and the local used bookstores and managed to send her every last one of those books. We knew it wasn’t the same thing as the originals, but it was something.

    • Thank you, Elaine. I think of you all every time there’s a warning in your area. I feel like our problem is so small compared to what happens on the SE coasts.

      You sound like you’re very, very good at bugging out.

  7. I’ve been trying to get my husband to clean up the garage – he’s a hoarder, one without order – piles on piles of ‘things’. I asked him to think about a sudden bushfire (we’re in Australia) and what would he save? He went very quiet.
    It’s an interesting question.
    Prior to a long trip, I left him with instructions for in case of emergency to take my two ‘go bags’ packed with my notes and versions of my long-time-coming WIP and my MacBook (filled with same), and our family briefcase which contains birth certificates and legal documents, etc). That’s it. My life’s most precious in two bags.
    Luxury of time would afford much more, but I guess the criteria is: leave behind what’s insured, and prioritise the rest.
    It’s extremely confronting to think about this very real possibility.

    • “Luxury of time would afford much more, but I guess the criteria is: leave behind what’s insured, and prioritise the rest.” This is a terrific motto, Jay.

      Situations like these make life very real, indeed.

  8. Years ago, I purchased a book of poetry in Japan. It’s all hand-written haiku and tanka… and other forms I cannot name. It was written by men of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. I don’t know if the poetry was written by men in combat, or by desk clerks back at “the general’s office”, but it is really interesting. I’m something of an amateur historian with a Japanese specialty. Most Japanese I showed the book to were not impressed. Warfare, and anything or anyone associated with it is not a topic for public discourse in that country. It’s considered a rudeness. I always found that to be very sad. During WWII, the culture of the old samurai warriors was alive and well in the military. This led to many sad results, including “suicide before surrender”, banzai (suicide) charges, and kamikaze. But any samurai worth his salt was also a poet, and this tradition apparently thrived as well.

    Which is to say, I’d save that book.

  9. I once had a dream that our house was on fire and other than getting the family and pets out, the only thing I thought to rescue was the painting I did of a Siberian tiger. It’s a 24 x 36 canvass that took me two years to complete (working and raising kids). I laughed at that. Told me where my priorities were!

    Although we have many things I would hate to see destroyed, like our fine art prints by a South African artist, our African wedding and Safari pictures not yet scanned to digital files, and a few sentimental keepsakes, I’m really not sure what I’d deem the most important. Maybe our marriage certificate since it would be difficult to get a replacement for the original from Zimbabwe. We should have it in a safety deposit box, but we haven’t bothered yet.

    After reading everyone’s comments, maybe I should give this a little more thought. My writing and most of our photographs are saved to an external hard drive and the cloud. No worries there. The prints are big and heavy, not sure if it would be realistic to try and save them unless we had a fair amount of time. Some of our African sculptures we brought back with us would be easy to grab and run with, which might be on our priorities since they would be impossible to replace.

    Losing your home and all of its contents would be a horrible experience. My heart goes out to all who have suffered this kind of loss from whatever cause.

    Your problems makes my recent plumbing nightmare seem trivial. In short, plumbers hired by our water company came into install a pressure regulator on our main water pipes to prevent a possible blow out. They found a cracked valve in our geothermal heating and cooling unit. We called a HVAC tech. He found a leak in the main water line. We called plumbers for that since it was a separate issue from the pressure valve. They discovered the main shut off valve out by the street was stripped and they could not turn off the water. So that had to be fixed before the leaking main could be repaired, before the geothermal system could be fixed and the pressure regulator installed. We were without heat or A/C for almost a week while all the involved entities collaborated on the needed repairs. Thank goodness we only had two days of 90 degree temps and the predicted drop was only to the low 40s (fall in Idaho) in the am. We survived and are very, very appreciative of having finally having a constant flow of water and heat!

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