In September 2008, the northern part of Munster was waist-high in water. We were the town so often shown on the Chicago news night after night – the lake of water that used to be the Target parking lot, the Taco Bell with water halfway up the walls, the newly-remodeled urgent care facility that was now filled with useless new equipment, the house that exploded from a gas leak, the long lines at the FEMA stations filled with people trying to get answers. Hundreds of families along the Little Calumet River, in Munster and in towns across Northwest Indiana, with water in their kitchens and their critical possessions being rescued by canoe.
Just as the photographs of the flooded area didn’t do the area justice, the stories of the aftermath didn’t begin to touch the enormity of the situation. We have friends who own a quad-level house that backed up to the river, and they lost everything in the bottom three levels and in their garage. They were not alone. House after house was hidden behind mountains of sodden belongings piled up in front yards and dumpsters. The weary family members could only gaze on their wet “life-pile” and head back in to pull out more.
It was such a helpless feeling to see the devastation and heartbreak and to hear the stories of loss, no matter how much we tried to help. It was even more difficult when we began to hear the tales of insurance companies who split hairs on what was covered (drywall = covered; drywall mud = not covered) and price gouging from repair companies that seemed to appear overnight. Several people were “taken” by contractors who seemed legitimate but who took deposits for work and disappeared.
Thankfully, the majority of the homes were salvageable, and work was begun by reputable construction companies. As the months went by, the sodden piles and dumpsters were replaced by contractors’ trucks and stacked building materials. Families were able to finally take the time to look past the shells of their homes and dream of what they could become. They had a blank slate to work from, and many chose to tweak their layouts to improve the flow and function, or even rethink their floor plans completely. As someone who consults on such things, it was gratifying to finally see a glimmer of the future in the tired eyes of so many. While it would be simplistic to say the rebuilding was a chance at a fresh start for everyone involved, since many were still dealing with foundation and structural issues, it has been wonderful to see the islands of hope and rebirth.
The old adage of making lemonade when life gives you lemons would be a serious stretch in this situation, but having the chance to see some of these houses arise from the sludge of mud in a new and better form is a blessing to behold.