San Marco flooding illustrates best in people during toughest of times

San Marco flooding illustrates best in people during toughest of times
Sharon Graber and Mary Gingrerich, Mennonites from Virginia, drove 14 hours to help flood victims in San Marco.

Calmly watching the news about flooding in San Marco around 4 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, River Road resident Sharon Reichert said she wasn’t alarmed until she got up and discovered the St. Johns River flowing into her dining room.

“I was watching the flood on TV while it was coming into the house,” she said. “Since the TV was on I didn’t think it was that bad but they were right. At 7 a.m. all the car alarms in the neighborhood went off and my neighbor’s car caught on fire.

“By 10:30 in the morning the water was 10 inches from the windows and 18 inches in the house so I called my son Brant Widaman and described what was happening. Thankfully, he suggested that I call the City line (630-CITY). They were great! I was told to put out a flag – a white sheet or towel on the front door. A boat came by around 2:30 in the afternoon and got me and my two cats, a young couple who had parked their car down the street and then couldn’t get to it – it was flooded anyway – and a guy with his dog.”

She looked down at her feet. “I have these shoes and a pair of flip flops a friend lent me. That’s it except for my phone, my cats, my flood insurance papers, my Kindle, and the clothes on my back.”

The boat took the flood refugees to the corner of Hendricks Avenue and Lasalle Street where a flatbed truck then transported them to Southside Baptist Church, which provided shelter.

“It was so weird,” said Reichert. “Everyone was going into Peterbrooke’s just having a normal day and a few blocks over everything was a mess.”

Reichert is saddened to lose so many of her possessions but the worst is the loss of her father’s World War II memorabilia. Her parents had moved into assisted living and she was the caretaker of their items. Most are destroyed, including her grandfather’s clock.

Looking around at the mounds of stinky debris up and down River Road, Reichert pointed out how helpful everyone in the neighborhood had been. She described neighbors helping to clean up the convenience store in San Marco and a young couple helping a struggling elderly lady and her cat wading down the street.

She also mentioned she was appalled at the number of sightseers, and people who were rummaging through the mounds of possessions destroyed by the storm. “What are they going to do with this stuff? Don’t they realize it’s toxic?” she said.

The most shocking thing, she said, as she worked outside with neighbors cleaning up and throwing away, was when several people approached her to ask if they could go through her house to see if there was anything they could take.

But Reichert said a heartening moment occurred as she was picking up debris. A truck pulled up and young people from the Rose Hill Mennonite Church in Virginia hopped off to offer her a bottle of water and invite her to Southside Baptist Church for free hot dogs and chili.

Sharon Graber and Mary Gingrerich said their youth group had driven 14 hours to get to Jacksonville with their concession stand to help as part of Christian Aid Ministries. Reichert is grateful to her son and neighbors for their help and heartened that the youth group came to offer aid and not to benefit from the losses of someone else.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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