Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Great Flood of 2015

As some of you may have heard, Talek Camp suffered from a flash flood on the night of June 13th, 2015. It was a crazy, terrifying night for all of us in camp, but the end result was not as bad as it could have been: everyone survived without injury, and we didn’t lose any important data or samples. Although nothing absolutely catastrophic happened, we lost a lot of equipment and are left with a shell of the camp that we once had. Of the 15 tents we had set up in camp, only three of them survived the night without being flooded. Here’s what it was like:

It rained a bit that evening, enough to prevent us from going on evening obs but not much more. When I left my tent to check the rain gauge, I saw that the river was very high, and I went out to take photos.

The normally peaceful Talek River, now with rushing rapids
Acacia trees that are not usually underwater
The river overflowing its banks by the kitchen tent
The night guards (who had been through a flood before) did not seem worried, so we didn’t start to evacuate for another 30 minutes. At that point, we began a steady evacuation of the kitchen tent, which turned into a swift retreat once we realized the water was rising at an incredible rate.

By the time we had finished evacuating the kitchen tent, the lab tent was flooding, even though it was on higher ground. At this point, we began the frantic task of trying to save all of the hyena samples, digital and paper data, and other lab equipment. Everyone in camp was amazing – we carried sample tanks, hyena books, centrifuges & vortexes, cameras & GPSes, giant solar batteries, and more equipment back and forth to the cars through water that was eventually up to our waists.

When we decided that anything left in the lab tent had already been ruined, we left to check on the other tents. At this point, the water had risen so high that the food supplies we had moved to higher ground were underwater. The storage tent had also already flooded, so we dragged the surviving boxes of supplies above the waterline, but unfortunately much of the tent’s contents had already been soaked. The solar tent was in danger, so we frantically evacuated those batteries and saved what bedding and books we still could.

At that point, there wasn’t much left to save. We stood by the cars, and watched the kitchen coolbox, followed by Target, a fake hyena, followed by our brand new tent, float down the driveway in the flooding waters. We began to worry about the whole of camp being flooded, with no place for us or the cars (full of data!) to survive. Not knowing when the water would stop rising, we decided to drive out of camp to higher ground. By this point, almost everything in sight was now part of the Talek River, and the water was high enough to cover the headlights of the cars in some places, leaving us blind. As luck would have it, the first car to try was the new car, KBY, which ultimately drowned in Putrid Crossing near camp. Everyone inside moved to the car roof and was able to wade (in chest-high water!) uphill to drier ground, but the car and all its contents spent the night mostly submerged in the rushing water. The snorkel, which all Land Cruisers are equipped with to enable cars to drive through high water, is apparently decorative instead of functional. Thanks, Toyota. The second car, full of most of the data, was far enough behind to witness KBY’s demise from afar and stick to safer areas.

About 10 minutes after KBY drowned, the waters stopped rising. We waited by the car, put on dry clothing, and started to process our experience. Some of us napped, some of us cried, and others just sat and waited.

Within an hour, the waters had receded to manageable levels, and we began to survey the damage.

Debris on the dining table
Chase investigating the waterline in our food cabinet 
The inside of the lab tent, full of ruined supplies
and overturned furniture
The waterline on the lab tent
The bread that Joseph had baked that night
survived by being placed on top of a cabinet,
and we all gratefully devoured it around midnight.


Anonymous said...

Shit, looks horrible! A vast difference from the Camp when I visited in 2002!

Jeff French

Anne Engh said...

I'm so sorry you guys have to go through this. I wish I could come out and help you clean, dry and salvage everything.

Rohan said...

Wow...scary stuff. I'm glad you all were OK and the most important things survived!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad everyone's ok. That looks like a really scarey thing to go through (and I know from the safer lab side just how destructive even small floods can be to data and equipment). I hope you can get going and back to normal again quickly.

Unknown said...

Target! Nooooooooo!

Glad you all are in one piece. We have some flooding out here in MI too! Nothing like that, though. Stay safe!

Russ Van Horn said...

Ah, wow, I'm sorry to hear about this but glad everyone's okay!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science