by nathan oster
If, in fact, the worst of the ice jams and flooding are behind us, then the homes belonging to Joe and K.C. Yarborough, and alongside of them to Lavone Castro and Leona Foulk, will probably go down as the ones that took the greatest hit in the Great Ice Jam of 2014.
When contacted this week, all involved expressed gratitude to the many who helped them in their time of need.
Their properties were hit from two sides, as not only did Dry Creek back up, but water from the Big Horn River came gushing out a culvert that runs beneath U.S. Highway 14-16-20. In fact, Yarborough says the culvert is where it all started.
“I can hold back that creek,” he said. “But I can’t hold back the Big Horn.”
Joe said he told LaVone and Leona on Saturday night to pack a bag and be ready to evacuate with little notice. He had a suspicion his property would flood. Shortly after 1 a.m., it became a reality. Water was pouring out of the culvert. He alerted a member of the town crew, who was on the bridge.
Joe woke LaVone and Leona and told them to get ready to move. In his house, he and K.C. started putting things up, hoping to keep them dry. The day before, they’d emptied their basement of all their belongings. Those things were tucked away in a trailer off property.
Around 3 a.m., some family members joined him in the fight against the flood water.
By late Sunday morning, however, most of his property was under water.
Joe described having a range of emotions — tears of joy and hope when Dave Moss showed up with a large pump and started blasting water off of his property 30 to 40 feet in the air, the anxiety of not knowing what might come next, the sense that all was lost when water surged for several minutes — and finally, the feeling of relief when the water began to retreat after the ice jam broke.
The basement of the Yarborough home, which Joe described a root cellar, flooded to within a couple of feet of the rafters. But on the positive side, it never reached the floor they live on, although it did come within an inch or two of doing so.
Yarborough and some family and friends spent Monday cleaning up, and getting the water out of the basement. They’ve been staying with family this week, until they get a replacement for their furnace, which was ruined by the water.
K.C. Yarborough said Big Horn County Search and Rescue was among the first on the scene, and that members of the Wyoming National Guard did a tremendous job filling sandbags for their property and the adjacent one.
“This whole experience has been so humbling,” said K.C.
Joe struck the same tone, saying, “The community beat this. We couldn’t have done it by ourselves. Everybody pitched in. And we’re so grateful. I’m thankful I live in the community I do. It’s amazing how many people responded. I was turning people away. At least 20 people I don’t know came down, introduced themselves and asked what they could do. That was great. And the town people took care of us, too.”
Joe said he has no plans to move. He just hopes that someone can come up with a way to plug the culvert. “I’d like to see a valve put on it,” he said. “The way it is now, it leaves is exposed. I can fight Dry Creek. It’s not that big of a deal. But the Big Horn River is a different story.”
‘Worst flooding ever’
Twin sisters LaVon Castro and Leona Foulk are 82 years old and have spent the past 30 years living along Dry Creek. Never before had they witnessed the type of flooding that forced them to evacuate their homes early Sunday morning.
“There was just water everywhere,” said Castro, who was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by neighbor Joe Yarborough, who was keeping watch over both their properties due to anticipated flooding from the Big Horn River.
Castro said she and her sister have been living in the mobile home. Water got under it, but never inside, which was a blessing. The same cannot be said for Foulk’s home. It was flooded out and, Castro fears, is a complete loss. “She had 2 feet of water in her home,” she said.
Castro and Foulk are spending this week with relatives in Powell. They had been staying with a friend in Greybull — until she abandoned her home and headed for high ground in the Heights as the level of the Big Horn River rose Sunday afternoon.
Like Yarborough, Castro feels the problem was a culvert that carried water from the Big Horn River onto her property.
“This was the worst flooding I’ve ever seen around here,” she said. “Never had it been up so high before.”
And like Yarborough, Castro said she’s been moved by “the outpouring of concern and love. Everybody has been so generous and so kind. We have such good neighbors there. We’ll be 83 soon. It seems weird, not being in our homes. To us, it provides a secure feeling. Yes, they were material things that we lost. But at the same time, they were things we’ve had all our lives.”