James Lane residents fled here as floodwaters raged
When the North Fork of the White River flooded last year, damaging or destroying several homes on James Lane, a small community of riverside homes near Dawt, many of the residents there fled to the home of their neighbors, Dan and Caroline Israel.
“I think for a while there were 18 people here,” Caroline recalled recently. “We also had the five water patrol [and conservation agents] here while they were waiting to rescue the Donahues off their roof. We had two futons downstairs, and we brought a mattress up – bedrooms, couches, chairs, cots. People were everywhere.”
The gathering began on Friday night, April 29, 2017, as the waters of the North Fork rose to unprecedented levels. As the rising water drove their neighbors from their homes closer to the river, they found shelter at the Israels’ home.
At one point, Dan got a text message from their neighbors Katie and Ted Hoversen asking him to watch for them as they were trying to leave their home amid the rising, rushing water. (See related story, page 1 and this page.) When several minutes passed with no sign of the Hoversens, Dan drove to their driveway – and was shocked to see Katie, with one of the couple’s dogs, clinging to a fencepost in chest-deep water and Ted hanging onto a submerged tractor with another dog. Dan quickly returned home and got a jon boat and other neighbors from the area, Shawn Taylor and his adult son Matthew.
The men managed to rescue Katie Hoversen and then Ted. The dogs were saved too. Dan took them all to his house, where a growing crowd of flood victims was gathering.
“Surprisingly, some people slept that night, I think,” Caroline said. “The weather didn’t really peak until about 3 a.m. And everyone was exhausted.”
The water patrol and conservation agents had arrived on James Lane hoping to rescue Peggy Donahue and her daughter and son-in-law, Autumn and Joshua Shirley, who had scrambled to the roof of their two-story James Lane home as the floodwaters rose. (See related stories in the April 25 and May 2 editions of the Times.) But a combination of factors made rescue impossible during the night. So the officers retreated to the Israels’ house to watch and wait until daylight, hoping the water would stop rising.
Once the daring rooftop rescue was completed, the three bedraggled neighbors arrived at the Israels’ house, thankful to have survived their nine-hour ordeal on the roof and the harrowing escape through the deadly current that carried huge trees, structures and propane tanks hurtling toward them.
By then the power was out, and nearby James Bridge over the North Fork had fallen. The Hoversens’ house had been swept off its foundation by the rushing water, which carried it downstream to collide with and destroy the Israels’ barn.
Other nearby homes and barns were also destroyed. It was a weekend of unbelievable sights and disasters. Sadness, shock and disbelief filled the victims, some of them now homeless, who gathered at the Israels’ house.
“No one could get out until Monday,” Caroline said. “Then Dan cleared some of the debris away with the tractor so people could at least get out.”
But even when the survivors could get out, they had to make long, out-of-the-way detours to get anywhere that had the resources they needed because major bridges had fallen and smaller bridges were underwater.
But as soon as James Lane was reopened to PP Highway, “people started coming and going,” Caroline said. “We had a big generator, and the Winrods [Tecumseh VFD chief Nathanael and his wife, Jennifer] brought another generator. We had a little generator for coffee and charging phones, and we were cooking breakfast on an electric skillet.”
And then “people started bringing food. It was amazing, the people who brought us food. We didn’t have to make that long trip to shop because people were bringing us stuff. We would make sandwiches and take them out on the lane to the guys who were working on the clean-up.”
Power was restored on Thursday, nearly a week after the flood turned their lives upside down.
“The people staying with us didn’t have anywhere to go. They couldn’t go home. Or they didn’t have a home to go to anymore. So a lot of them stayed a week or two until they could figure out what they were going to do,” she said.
One couple stayed with the Israels a month. “But that was OK. We were all just putting one foot in front of another, doing what we had to do to get through it,” she said.
It was a time of overwhelming hardship – and also of extravagant kindness. And it was a time when many people were described as heroes: rescuers, first responders, volunteer firefighters, utility linemen, law officers, highway crews.
For the people who lost their homes on James Lane, “heroes” was also a word that described their good neighbors, Dan and Caroline Israel.