Mesa storm brings flood of heartbreak for families

Mesa storm brings flood of heartbreak for families

Mesa storm brings flood of heartbreak for families

Residents and family and friends walk through a flooded neighborhood near Stapley Drive and U.S. 60 in Mesa on Tuesday. Many faulted the city’s drainage system for the flooding. (Photo: David Wallace/The Republic)

The harvest moon casts a silver glow over flooded streets as Cody Phelps wades through waist-high water to get home after Monday’s ­disastrous rainstorm.

His wife, Joni, stays behind in the truck, unable to get out with the water so high. Pregnant and only three weeks from her due date, she’s ­already feeling contractions.

Cody sloshes into their Mesa duplex at about 8:30 Monday night, after submerged transformers led to a neighborhood blackout. His flashlight pierces the darkness, giving a clear view of the gut-wrenching damage.

Floors destroyed. Baseboards swollen and warped. The freshly painted nursery — decorated with pink, yellow and green flowers — ruined after months of nesting.

The 29-year-old window salesman reaches out to touch the wall. Soggy.

Record rainfall in the Valley

Grabbing whatever valuables and clothing he can, Cody treads back out to his family.

Monday’s record-breaking rainstorm spawned flooding across the ­Valley that turned Interstate 10 into a lake and closed schools. But Mesa’s Emerald Acres area arguably took the hardest hit. More than 100 homes were damaged, and nobody seems to have flood insurance .

Firefighters had evacuated the Phelps family about four hours earlier as murky water surged into their home near Stapley Drive and U.S. 60. Joni, also 29, had gathered every towel and blanket in the house in a desperate ­effort to stem the flooding, but everything happened too fast.

They felt helpless watching their $11,000 home remodel, financed through a second mortgage, disappear beneath the oily water. Cherry laminate wood floors through most of the house, pricey vinyl in the bathroom. New doors that soaked up the water like thirsty house pets.

With Joni expecting a baby at any time, emergency crews needed to get her out quickly. Unable to open the front door with all the water, she climbed out a side window and into a yellow raft surrounded by firefighters.

Two firefighters carried Joni’s hospital bags just in case she went into ­labor, while three others guided her through rushing water. As the boat wobbled, Joni feared she might fall in.

Floating down Doran Street, she glanced at the homes. Her neighbors scrambled to stop the flood, frantically tossing towels, blankets and even ­mattresses in front of doorways.

Cody and Joni’s 8-year-old son, Robert, waited for her on dry ground. Joni’s parents had picked him up from school.

That first night post-flood, at Joni’s parents’ house, was spent tossing and turning. Joni cried on the drive over there. Heartbroken, she could still feel the contractions.

«It is devastating to know that any minute now you could have a baby, and you’re going to bring her back to your parents’ house, not her own room,» Joni says.

Joni would walk into the nursery once a day to look at the clean clothes hanging in the closet, anticipating the birth of her first daughter, Dani LeAnn.

«Now it’s just ruined,» Joni says.

Cody Phelps takes water-damaged items to a dumpster on Thursday after his Mesa home flooded on Monday. Phelps and his wife wonder if they can make their home livable again. (Photo: Michael Schennum/The Republic)

Up the street from their home, 75-year-old Judy Kingsley also spends most of Monday night awake, consoling her two wet dogs, Mr. B and Angel. Forgetting that the power is out, she walks into the bathroom and flips the light.

Nothing but the click of the switch.

Day 2: Questions and frustration

The flood has barely receded Tuesday morning, paralyzing the neighborhood as cars stall and garbage floats along the watery streets. The street is quiet. Many children stay home from school and their parents from work.

Cody is back on the phone with an ­insurance adjuster by midmorning. The claims agent he spoke with ­Monday said the adjuster would call, but Cody couldn’t wait any longer.

The conversation doesn’t go Cody’s way, and he’s told there is nothing the insurance company can do because they don’t have flood coverage. It’s a dark moment for the couple, who can’t afford to replace all they lost.

Mesa storm brings flood of heartbreak for families

«We had the house finished maybe three weeks to a month and then this happened,» he says. «So we’re out the money we just used to remodel.»

Confusion reigns for much of the day as residents begin to wonder just what happened and why. Rumors swirl, unquelled by community meetings where city officials attempt to explain. Many see it as an excuse.

«This wasn’t an act of God; it was an act of stupidity,» Cody says after ­multiple visits home to Doran Street to collect more belongings.

Like many of his neighbors, he believes something went wrong with the drainage system managed by Mesa and the Arizona Department of Transportation. ADOT has said the source of the flooding is under investigation.

Nearly 5 inches of rain saturated the area’s network of retention basins over the course of a few hours Monday morning. It wasn’t until early afternoon, under clear skies, that they overflowed, filling the low-lying neighborhood with runoff water.

Over on Allen Street, Kingsley looks at the oily river consuming her front yard and wonders about the condition of the sewer system. She doesn’t dare to flush the toilet or take a bath.

She’s missing something, and it takes her some time to discover what. Coffee. With the power still out, Kingsley can’t brew a pot of coffee.

After sleeping only three hours the night before, her nerves are frazzled.

Some in the neighborhood watch, terrified, as heavy clouds roll in again Tuesday evening. Despite fears of a second round of flooding, the storm passes them by this time. Sprinkles overnight leave windshields wet but don’t appear to cause new damage.

Day 3: Cleaning up

By the time city dumpsters start to roll in early Wednesday morning, the community is roaring back to life, and residents are shifting full-throttle into cleanup mode.

Floodwaters are gone, but mud and debris linger on sidewalks and driveways. Mattresses, plywood and soaked carpet begin to fill the dumpsters as homeowners strip away interiors.

One dumpster holds a Harry Potter comforter, its 8-year-old owner ­distraught over the loss.

Relief efforts are underway across the neighborhood by Wednesday afternoon, including dozens of missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who turn out in green shirts to haul boxes and trash away.

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