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Please God Stop the Rain

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Betty O’Hara in front of her 227-year-old home.  

Dave Rikard woke up with a start at the sound of the Prattsville Hose Company’s alarm. It was 8 a.m., and he was still a little groggy from the previous day’s Fire Department clambake. Rikard, 53, shared a yellow-and-blue Victorian with his 6-year-old son, Jamison, who’d spent the night with Grandma outside of town, and his 22-year-old daughter, Anastasia, who was still sleeping in her room.

It was pouring outside, but the forecast had called for only an indirect hit, so Rikard—Prattsville’s resident lawyer and the vice-president of the Hose Company—expected to spend the day pumping water out of basements, as he had in previous floods.

He went to the station and checked in with the chief, and when he heard that members of the company had been sent to urge people to move to higher ground, Rikard decided it was probably wise to go home, wake his daughter, and move the car. When Anastasia dropped him back at the station, it was with the understanding that she was only going to make a quick stop back at the house to pick up some things before heading to her grandmother’s.

Starting at 8:30, the station’s phone and radio went berserk as calls came in from all over town. Chief Tommy Olson thought the tanker truck might be stable enough to drive through the water without getting swept away, but just as Dave pushed the button to raise the bay door of the station so his nephew Sam could move the truck out, the driveway behind it peeled up in one piece and keeled over backward. Dave looked at Sam, then closed the door. The Prattsville Hose Company, the town’s only rescue squad, was now as trapped as everyone else.

For the next several hours, Rikard watched the water swallow Main Street, rising up steps and over windows. From the firehouse, he could see his chimney and white picket fence. He was shocked when Anastasia called to say that she’d been stuck in the house and that their neighbors, the Carrs, were practically clinging to their collapsing house. Rikard paced the firehouse floor, telling Anastasia to look for ropes or flotation devices or anything she could toss over to the Carrs, but before she could, she screamed. Dad, the house is moving!

Rikard ran back to the window. He could no longer see his chimney.

Even after her father woke her up, Anastasia Rikard wasn’t sure why everyone was so freaked out. He wanted her to go straight to her grandmother’s, but she told him she’d rather just head to Mom’s, in Catskill. After dropping him off at the station, she went home and packed a bag, but by the time she’d changed into jeans and a T-shirt, water was in the driveway. There was no way she was going to be able to get her car out. Oh well, she thought, the water will go down.

Anastasia went up to her bedroom, opened her laptop, and began killing time. She browsed Facebook and reassured her mom and friends via text, but every time she went to the stairs, the water just kept rising, and she began to feel the house swaying in the current. Cracks formed in the corners of her room, and molding snapped off doorways. She had a terrifying close-up view out her window as the house next door began to collapse on itself, trapping the Carrs in a room. She tried to communicate, but it didn’t matter how loudly she yelled. Anastasia saw their mouths moving, but heard only the deafening roar of the water.

She called her father’s cell to plead for someone to come save them, but hadn’t yet grasped just how much she was in need of rescue herself. The house was shaking, and chunks of plaster dropped from the walls and ceiling as it shifted, wheezed, and then fell forward with a horrifying crunch. Suddenly, her second-floor bedroom was at ground level and sloped at such a steep angle that she had to use the hallway railing just to pull herself to Dad’s room in the back. It had a small bathroom in the far corner, and that’s where Anastasia Rikard spent the longest two hours of her life.

Her cell-phone battery lasted long enough for her to talk to her father, who tried to comfort her, and her mother, who was on the other line when the toilet popped up out of the floor. Then the phone died and she was alone—just her, the cat, and the dog. She sat and waited, sat and waited, for what felt like days.

Dad’s final warning had been to jump out the back if she felt the house was going to go, but Anastasia never let herself consider that possibility. She knew that if she went into the water, she wasn’t coming out.


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