Disaster strikes: Floods hit Marin and bring hearts and souls together


Nature, it seems, cares for no one. For many families across Marin, the New Year did not arrive heralded with popping fire- works and champagne, but rather with heavy rainfall pooling to create swamps in their basements.

Having watched the misfortune of Tsunami victims in the early spring and, more recently, victims of New Orleans’ Hurricane Katrina, few had expected even the smallest disaster in Marin. Not here, where the weather is beautiful and even ducks can’t splash much in the shallow rain puddles.

It certainly wasn’t only ducks that were surprised when those puddles reached to four feet deep, the minimum depth for a regulation swimming pool.

San Anselmo residents travel down their flooded street in a boat in the aftermath of the storm. photo courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.

Police officers stationed at the perimeters of San Anselmo warned prospective shoppers away from the area. Beyond the yellow tape was a landscape of devastation, with stained store windows and debris from the overflowing creek polluting every corner.

Doodlebug employee Lyndsay Coss took pictures for the store’s insurance and was shocked at the level of destruction. “Doodlebug lost a ton of merchandise. The waterline rose above the light switches and actually moved the kilns around in their room,” Coss said.

Of course, the flood did not only affect the shops. Many houses throughout the county have been equally damaged.

“I’m just really thankful that no one got hurt. Stuff can always be replaced. And I’m really grateful that all of our friends came and helped,” said junior Braeda Heffernan, whose house was among the many residences affected by the flood.

Senior Fred Dodsworth-Heath was at a friend’s house when he found out that his home had been flooded. “My parents called at six in the morning and said that my room was in ruins, he said. “I thought it was a joke.”

Like many of the affected families, Dodsworth- Heath and his family spent the rest of the break cleaning up. Two days after the flood, a $600 investment for fans dried out the walls and floors of their home. His family lost up to $20,000 in damaged goods, none of which insurance covers.

A week after the flood, downtown San Anselmo began to jump back into action. Roughly half of the stores had reopened, with red and white signs donated by Flash Photo that announced store hours and conditions, each above a jovial “Welcome Back!”

Floodwater approaches several feet, overtaking signs, trees and a car on San Anselmo Avenue. Courtesy the Jenkins Family

Along the five-minute drive from Downtown San Anselmo to Saunders Rd., a variety of storm-stained tractors bent their mechanical backs and toiled in the wake of what Governor Schwarzenegger labeled a “disaster area on Jan. 3.

Huge rugs, rolled like taquitos fill dumpsters on every corner. In one dumpster, the handlebars of a bike protruded like hands from the rubble. Families and storeowners side by side carried ruined objects and planks of wood.

Though the flood certainly dispersed junk and debris throughout the damaged area, it also brought people together, both the unfortunate victims and those that were spared.

“We have a really great landlord,” said Allison Murphy, owner of Welcome Home. “We are doing really great because she is so active in our recovery.”

Murphy said that throughout the entire recovery, she felt an extreme sense of community and gratitude for those who came through to help, especially people whom she had never met before. Murphy plans to re-open her shop Jan. 20.

San Anselmo’s fast recovery would not have been possible without the volunteers that helped. “A great crew came in and it only took us Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, even though we lost about 300,000 classes of merchandise, about $100,000,” said Ludwig’s owner Mohammad Nazari.

The Town Hall keeps a table with a vase of flowers in front of its building, a laminated sign offering a signup sheet for volunteers. As of Jan. 7, over 200 volunteers had signed up to help in town. They have been working in the shops, cutting down drywall, shoveling mud, and moving debris.

Road sign on Center Boulevard warns oncoming traffic and pedestrians of flooded streets ahead. courtesy Joey Listerman

Lauren Murphy volunteered to help in San Anselmo. “I saw all these people crying- it was a really sad scene. I knew that it was my town and I had to do something she said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”

However, not all of the stores are quite back up on their feet. The Vintage Flamingo has been completely devastated by the flood.

The open doorway allows a peek into the dry floors, littered with debris. Beaded lamps hang haphazardly over a pile of ruined merchandise, and the only remnant of the store’s recently renovated interior is the faded counter tops at the center of the room. Above the door, a black and white sign says, “Wipe Your Feet.”

Stores such as The Cedarchest, Ciao Ragazzi, and the White Rabbit are in similar condition. The White Rabbit’s interior is empty save for a countertop covered in jagged pieces of wood, a huge circular fan, y and a colorful toy magazine.

Coss expressed her appreciation for the help of volunteers at Doodlebug. “Afterwards we had a lot of customers finished items in the store. Someone called and offered her garage to store them all, so we packed them all up in the car and dropped them off there,” she said.

Despite the willingness of volunteers, the government is not as disposed to help. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will not provide assistance until the President declares Marin County a federal disaster area.

For some, however, this is not an issue. “I’m not even sure I want their money. I do not think we deserve to be put in the same category as the poor people who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. We’re doing all right on our own,” Murphy said.

Despite much of the ruin across the county, inhabitants of Marin recovered quickly and with enthusiasm. The streets have been mostly cleaned, the parking lots hosed out, and the reconstruction begun.

Whatever disarray the flood caused, the warm support of friends, families, and volunteers has quickly repaired it. Like a game of 52 card pickup, the pieces of the deck have been seized as quickly as fingertips a low.

As Dodsworth-Heath said, “In this sort of situation you look to point the finger at someone, and the only thing you can really do is look to the sky.”