A Yosemite Flood Story

A Yosemite flood Story

Date: Wed, 22 May 1996
From: FataMorgana

It had been raining since about 3 p.m., so it had been a pretty wet evening. We'd gone to sleep early, hoping to get an early start the next day if it was fine. Well, at about midnight, the campground hostess came around to those of us with sites by the river, and told us to move our tents to higher ground. She also told us that if a flood should occur, our campground (Upper River) is usually the last one to be affected. So we moved inland about 100 yards and went back to sleep, to dream of hikes, rides, sequoias, etc. for tomorrow.

At 2.30 a.m., a ranger came round and told us the river was still rising, and we MIGHT want to move to still higher ground. (This is virtually a direct quote: "might". Ha! Now, he didn't sound too concerned, certainly there was no mention that a flood might occur! At this point, Boon Hui (that's my husband, yeah, the patient one who now knows we're always going to meet up with Internet friends on each of our trips!) kind of thought we should forget about sleeping in the tent, so we moved into the car, where he'd already (fortunately, as it turned out) moved our valuables, like the camera, passports, etc.

So we slept in the car in our sleeping bags, leaving the tent where it was. Nobody came round to disturb us, so we slept on till 5.30 when we were woken up by a girl shrieking. It was still dark, so we didn't know what was going on. Very slowly, we realised that even the car had got water inside, and the area around our feet was completely wet! When we turned the car lights on, we realised the entire campground had become a lake! We couldn't see the picnic tables or even the road and exits.

Everybody was trying to get out. The water outside had come up to my knee level, and we were so worried that the car couldn't go. Well, we drove through and over everything in an effort to just get out of there. We couldn't see where we were going because of the water everywhere, we probably ran over lots of things on the way too, even the exits weren't clear. And the car was sputtering away like crazy. In fact, it was making this really loud clunky noise and would just "die" when you took your foot off the accelerator.

We made it onto the road, where the car stopped, so Boon Hui climbed out and pushed it onto the verge. We then decided to wait for a bit to see whether things were going to get better. We were also wondering whether any ranger was going to come. Well, at about 7, some ranger did come round to the other campground across the road (Lower River) and started telling the campers there (99% of whom had RVs, not tents!) to leave. I guess by that time, our Upper River campground had gone completely. We could see the river still gushing through it, and we saw lots of tents still left inside, even a couple of cars. We sincerely hoped nobody was trapped inside, but there was no way we could tell. We watched in some disbelief as the waters rose higher (eventually, the water level reached the window of one of the cars left in the campground).

Since our car was making funny noises, we were told by some official-looking person with a walkie-talkie to wait for the tow truck. As it turned out, when the tow truck came, it had to deal with another car that was in even worse trouble in that it couldn't even work, whereas ours could move with lots of clunking! So we decided to risk our engine blowing up in our faces to try to get to the service station near the Yosemite Lodge.

When we got to the road leading to the Lodge, there was a roadblock in our way. A ranger said the bridge was out, the roads were cut off, so we had to seek high ground and wait it out. All this time, the car was clunking away, and was still "dying off" regularly. We trundled noisily toward the Visitors' Centre, figuring it would be the best place to be. Fortunately, we got there without any further mishap, and some guys we talked to there (who'd also been directed there) told us to cut the engine and talk to the rental car company (Hertz). One guy said he'd driven his Corvette through a flood once, and it'd made the exact same noise and the final diagnosis was that the entire engine had to be replaced.

It was a long day. Nobody knew what was going on, there were only a few rangers around (those that lived outside the Park couldn't get in because of the floods), and it was still raining so nobody knew if and when the river would recede. We started to worry about getting back to San Francisco by the next evening for our flight home after a few people said this kind of thing could close the Park for a few days. Fortunately, we were in a place that had restrooms and a deli - we'd left all our food behind in the bearproof lockers (following Park instructions to the letter!).

We called Hertz, who advised us not to touch the engine and would send a tow truck in with a new car for us when the roads opened. Relief #1. We called the airline who told us they could put us on the next available flight if we couldn't make it out in time. Relief #2. We began imagining calling the office back home to say, hey guys, guess what, we can't come in to work Monday 'cause we're stuck in a flood on another continent...

At 3 p.m. we were told they would try to open the roads at 4, for a couple of hours, so that all the campers could leave (there was nowhere for us to sleep that night, after all). We were all quite relieved, as there'd been talk of another overnight flood and thunderstorm being expected. Then we were told they wouldn't allow any cars IN, just out, so Hertz wouldn't be allowed to come in with our new car. At this point, none of the rangers or volunteers were helpful at all - we asked them, quite reasonably, in our opinion, how they expected us to get out (we were told that we HAD to go, being campers) without a car, and we asked if they could try to locate any tours that might be leaving that we could hitch onto, or if transport could be arranged for those of us whose cars had "expired". They said we'd have to find that out for ourselves.

We were fortunate that Boon Hui had met a really nice guy earlier, who happened to park near us, so when we asked him for a ride out to the nearest town, he agreed readily. So we arranged with Hertz that we would call them once we reached a town where they could deliver the car to us.

We reached Merced at about 8 p.m. that night, happy that we'd got out safe with minimal losses (just our tent and some personal belongings and food), having made some new friends because of the crisis. We were still angry that nobody had come round after 2.30 to tell us of the flooding. We understood that they probably didn't expect the flood to happen, but we thought that when it did, the least they could have done was to go around with a siren to tell us to evacuate. Later on, we heard that they actually DO have some sort of emergency signal as some other campers had heard them testing it the day before. Guess they didn't consider stranded campers in a rising flood an emergency!.

Of course, when we turned on the TV in our Merced hotel and caught the news reports on the flood, nobody mentioned that the "evacuation" was conducted entirely by us campers, at our own initiation, without ANY ranger being around at the crucial time, when it was dark and when people were panicking. Nor did they mention that the "relocation" the rangers they interviewed spoke about didn't mean us campers: all they'd done the night before was evacuate the school group at group camp to the auditorium. You would've thought that evacuating one campground at 11 p.m. the night before might have set some warning bells off in their heads, wouldn't you? Yet the only thing that had been done after that was telling some of us to move our tents - and that was that.

Copyright © 1996 Mary from Singapore

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