The Flood of '98: Teresa's Letter
Here, reproduced in full, is the letter Teresa Jennings wrote in Music K-8, Vol. 9, No. 2, the first issue to appear after the flood that devastated Plank Road Publishing.
I've been trying to figure out for days what I would say to you and how I would say it. If you have been a subscriber for a while, you know that I tend to speak from the heart in my letter in every issue we publish.
Sometimes I don't talk about the content of the issue because of other things going on in my life or in the world. This is one of those times.
My mother, Suzanne Riggio, wrote a letter to family and friends via e-mail on Sunday, August 9. Following is a generous excerpt of her letter:
"On August 6,  Teresa, PJ, and John headed to Indianapolis in the midst of a driving rain. Apparently it was the remnants of a tropical storm that had entered the country in Texas and had this long trailing arm wide open to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was stationary over Wisconsin for what seemed like forever. The ground was already saturated from earlier downpours.
For the next several hours, it dumped. One location near here measured 11+ inches; others only 8.5 inches. Between 5 and 6 p.m., Underwood Creek which goes through our area from northwest to southeast, crested. Plank Road Publishing is on the bank of this creek.
Some folks at the company (most had left for the day) were in the process of putting up paper products on higher shelves and unplugging computers in anticipation of a little water on the floor.
Suddenly, the water pushed in under the doors. Folks there turned off the electric breakers, grabbed the day's receipts and computer back-ups, hooked arms and waded out chest deep into the front parking lot, now Lake Underwood. Two of their cars were already submerged. They made their way to the police station across Juneau Blvd., but soon had to evacuate there because of advancing water.
In short, our people were safe, but later, the water mark in the front offices reached Mark's adam apple and in the back, which is lower, about 12 to 16 inches higher. All the computers, synthesizers, all products (except for some that were stored really high), the files, desks, tables, chairs, even the day's outgoing mail, were ruined.
Even worse, just down the road, 2 boys, cousins, playing in the flooded ditch, were swept away into a culvert leading to an underground storm sewage canal and finally to Underwood Creek. The bodies of the 14-year-old and the 10-year-old were finally recovered a couple of days later. Their grandparents are members of our church. It was a somber congregation today. The grief was palpable.
Back to August 6. Mark reached Trese and PJ on the road. They had spent 3 1/2 hours getting around Chicago because of all the construction. Now they slowed down so they could take and make calls to various people in the company.
The creek was still a lake on the next morning. David, Mark and Karl waded into the building to look. They were stepping on tapes and CDs, the current was still strong, and computer monitors were floating face up. The place was a shambles. Later in the day, the creek left the building, and several more folks took a look.
The company had met Friday morning at Trese and PJ's house to plan strategy. The phone line was forwarded to their house with a message to customers about being flooded and to call back next week. A picture was put on the web site, also with a message to "bear with us."
It was decided to move the customer reps to Trese and PJ's home and the shipping and mailing to our lower level temporarily. So four computers, a whole bunch of tables, and other supplies were bought. The gang moved our furniture around to make room for the tables. The rockers and overstuffed chairs were moved to our living area to make room for the computers and customer reps at the Jennings home. Deja vu. (Plank Road Publishing was born in that home.)
Saturday, the whole company rallied to make the company able to answer the phone again and to salvage whatever they could from the office. All of them, including some spouses and friends of the employees, were covered with silt and dirty water. They'd return here and hose down, have lunch in our courtyard and go at it again. They photographed everything. Their spirits were wonderful!
Meanwhile, down in Indy, realizing that they had to proceed with the recording session in order to have Volume 9, Number 2 ready to mail on time, they tried to turn off the heartbreaking news in order to do their jobs. Here, several thousand copies of Volume 9, Number 1 were ruined.
People have been great. The company is fantastic loyal, hard-working folks who are pulling together. Trese and PJ are blessed."
I'm grateful my mother wrote that letter, because I was too numb to document the events, though I doubt that I will ever forget them. I've heard and relived the tale many times from many different points of view now, including my own, which was long distance. Paul and I were horrified as we spoke to one person then another over the phone on that longest trip we've ever made to Indy. We were in shock as we heard our family and friends describe what they were going through even as it was still happening. When everyone was finally away from the flood site and safe, we knew we had to try to get back to work preparing for the recording sessions. It was impossible. The only piece of "flood reality" for us was the picture and story that appeared on our web site. When John, Paul, and I saw it for the first time on our computer in our hotel, we held each other and cried.
The session was almost like a dream. We were able to focus on the music when we needed to, but every other moment was spent on the phone and talking about the flood. It was an emotional roller coaster. We heard how hard people were working on our behalf and we were overwhelmed. When we finally returned home on Thursday, August 13, we were greeted with tears and hugs from a lot of very tired people. Within a short while, we had decided to go to the office to see the damage for ourselves. Words can't describe.
It must have been therapeutic for everyone to tell us the tale again every moment, every scary detail. How Jo, Karl, Bev and Penny had to hold onto each other to force the door open. How Jerry had to drive for hours to get home to avoid the rising water. How they tried in vain to raise the computers and product off the ground in the building. How Scott watched from across the street because he couldn't get back after an errand. How Eric's basement was also flooded. How Jo and Eric both lost their cars. How Jason watched the water pour in around him as cassettes floated by. How Soop helped get as many cars out of the lot as possible. How no one knew when the rain would stop or when the water would stop rising. How Mark, Karl and David made their way into the building the morning after to check the damage and film it for the web site. And on and on and on. And now, they had been through a whole week of digging through the muddy, smelly, debris that was once our building. Into the evening they talked. We listened, still in shock. Even now, some of them are just remembering some of the details of that day. It truly does take time for a disaster to sink in.
During that time and after, we continued to meet in our living room every morning to discuss our plans for each day. Some went to the old site to work on salvage and clean up. Some stayed at our house to work on customer service. Some went to the recently acquired new building, having moved things from my parent's house, to start setting up operations there and mailing magazines. We met each day for a communal lunch, sometimes outside, sometimes in. Most nights and weekends, there was someone, usually several people, still working at one of the locations. It was common to say goodnight to one or two folks at midnight or after.
On Thursday, August 27, the product and salvaged items that had been removed right after the flood and placed into storage were hauled to the new building. (As of this writing, it sits in piles waiting to be sorted, organized and put to use.) Then everyone went to the old building to fill more dumpsters with debris.
On Friday, August 28, we finally finished removing everything we could from the old building. We gathered in front and lowered our Plank Road flag from the flagpole as Jo played "Taps" on her trumpet, echoed by Jerry on his, but from a distance. Then, we lowered the American flag, folded it, and said goodbye to our old Plank Road home. It was very sad.
We needed that closure to move forward, and now that's just what we are doing. We are having to re-invent ourselves practically from the ground up. But if you know us, you know that we are not afraid to face the challenge, or the change. In fact, as you might expect, we consider it an adventure. I'm just so glad that all of these people I love so well are with us to share it. I hope you will continue to share it with us as well.
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