A year after the flood, Katie Hoversen says she’s ‘too scared of the river to miss it’
When the bad dreams come, Katie Hoversen is back in the water, clinging to the fencepost.
“I still dream about it,” the Tecumseh resident said recently, a year after the home she shared with her husband, Ted, and their daughter Ryia, was swept away in the historic flood on the North Fork of the White River. “When I dream, I’m just back there in the water, trying to get out. Nothing is ever different. And then I wake up in a panic.”
Ironically, Katie told the Times a year ago as she was recounting her story then, that at the time, “as scared as I was, I felt warm and comforted. It was the oddest feeling while I was out there in the water.”
The Hoversens’ harrowing experience began Saturday evening, April 29, 2017, at their home on James Lane, which parallels the northern bank of the North Fork near Dawt. “We were planning for a flood of 25 feet,” Katie said, referring to the US Geological Survey information that James Lane residents had learned to watch when heavy rains were predicted. “We knew that, at 25 feet, water would get into our guesthouse. So we had moved stuff around and tied the deck furniture to a tree so it wouldn’t float away.”
Knowing they would have high water, they sent their daughter, Ryia, then a senior at Gainesville High School and also the 2016 Hootin an Hollarin queen, to stay with a friend in town so she could make it to her job at Antler Pizza that night. Then they settled in and watched the rain.
They had come to Ozark County 10 years earlier. Ted had worked with the late Denny Shea at U.S. Customs, and after they both retired, Shea had invited them to visit him in Ozark County. Ted, who had grown up and spent most of his life on or near saltwater, wanted to float the river. Denny took them out on the North Fork.
As they floated by the homes on James Lane, a mile or so above Dawt, “we saw that house and loved it,” Katie said. “Denny said it was for sale, and we bought it the next day.”
‘The water just took me’
They loved living in the riverside home, and they endured several times of high water. But in all those years, the water had never come beyond the guesthouse. The night of April 29-30 was different.
“The water kept coming up and coming up and coming up,” Katie told the Times last year. “We realized it was going to come into the main house. We picked stuff up and put it on tables. Then water was in the house, and we realized we had to get out. But by then it was too late.”
She hurriedly texted their neighbor, Dan Israel, whose house was little higher than most others on James Lane. “I told him we were trying to make it out and to please watch for us,” Katie said.
Katie and Ted carried their two dogs, Katie grabbed her purse and they headed out to their car parked in the freestanding garage. “We got in the car and tried to back out, but it started floating,” she said.
They struggled to open the car doors in the rising water, hoping to get back to their house. “When I finally got the car door open, the water just took me. I couldn’t get my feet underneath me,” she said. “I finally ran into the fencepost. I grabbed it and wrapped my legs around it, but when surges of water would come, it would bend the post backward. And it was so hard to breathe.”
Ted had managed to get to the tractor, hoping to drive it to Katie and rescue her. “But then the tractor went underwater, and the engine died. So he was out there on the tractor, holding one of the dogs, watching me with the water rising and he couldn’t do anything about it,” she said.
‘He didn’t see me’
Then, at the top of their driveway, she saw their neighbor, Dan Israel, arrive in his car. “I saw him get out and look. Then he got back in. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. He didn’t see me,’” she said.
Meanwhile, the river continued to rise, and it carried huge amounts of debris. “All this stuff was floating and hitting me, but none of it was big,” Katie said. “But there were big things. I would see huge trees coming toward me – and then diverting. A propane tank was coming right at me – and then it diverted and missed me.”
Then, through the rain and the roaring water, she saw a boat coming toward her. Dan Israel had seen them. But he could also see that he needed help – and a boat. He came back with Matthew Taylor, son of other James Lane-area neighbors, Christina and Shawn Taylor, and they carefully made their way in a jon boat with a 5-horsepower motor through the turbulent current toward Katie.
The dog went into the boat first. Then Katie.
“It was extremely hard to get in. They were pulling me, and I was trying to jump. Believe me, I wanted to get in that boat!” she said. “In another 15 minutes, the water would have been over my head.”
The brave rescuers put Katie in the car they had driven back to the Hoversens’ driveway. Then they went back for Ted. “By the time they got to him, the water was up to his neck,” Katie said. “He had the other dog, and that dog had fallen off – a surge of water had knocked him off. But that little bugger swam against the current to get back to Ted.”
As the Hoversens were driven away from their property, their house was still standing. But that night, as they joined more than a dozen other neighbors at the Israels’ home – flood victims, all – they heard “a big sound, a horrible, screeching noise we could hear even inside the Israels’ house,” Katie said. She believes it was the sound of their home being washed away by the flood.
“Sunday morning, we went back to the driveway – we couldn’t get any closer – and we could see the house was gone,” she said.
A new beginning
For several weeks after the flood the Hoversens lived in their camper, which they had moved to a nearby friend’s house the night the rains began. Their daughter Ryia lived with a church friend in Gainesville.
Because Ozark County doesn’t participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, none of the Ozark Countians impacted by the high water had flood insurance. The Hoversens were accepted for a Small Business Administration loan but then decided against it. While many of their flood-impacted neighbors have either repaired their homes and returned to them – or plan to – the Hoversens have moved away from the river. Last fall they bought a house on Highway 160 a few miles away from their property on James Lane.
Katie now says she’s “too afraid of the river to miss it.” She’s uneasy around moving water. When she and Ted made a recent trip to Oklahoma right after heavy rains had filled area streams, “whenever we drove over the bridges where the rivers were swollen, I was extremely nervous to be around that water.”
In their new home on high ground, she feels safe. “Now, every time it rains, I don’t have to worry about a flood coming,” she said.
A little gold cross
They managed to recover a few of their possessions after the flood – items they dug out of deep sand deposits or things people found downstream and returned to them thanks to postings on a lost-and-found Facebook page. But the most important thing she found was also the smallest. She believes it’s a symbol of the heavenly help that kept her alive as she clung to the fencepost.
Remembering the huge trees and gas tanks that had been carried toward her by the raging floodwaters and how they seemed to have been suddenly diverted, and also remembering the strange sense of warmth and comfort she had felt as the cold, dark water rose around her, Katie returned to their homesite soon after the water receded. She found the garden fence post she had clung to when the flood enveloped her.
“I looked down, and there was a tiny little cross lying on top of the sand. A cross, right there where I’d been holding on to that post. That’s when I knew God was there. He was saying to me, ‘I was here with you. I was protecting you.’ When those big logs were coming right at me, it was God out there, pushing everything away. I know it was,” she said.
When the Times contacted Katie two weeks ago, she and Ted were in Branson. When asked if she still has the little cross, Katie answered quickly. “Oh, I always have it with me,” she said. “It’s a little charm on my necklace. It’s always with me. I don’t always have it on, but I have it with me.”