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Guest Column

Amy Senk

A broken pipe, a devastating flood of our home, not once, but twice…and our pain is nearly insurmountable

Amy Senk, previously a regular columnist for Stu News Newport, writes today about the difficult time her family has faced during the past three years. Twice, during that period, major water breaks from nearby city pipes have caused catastrophic flooding in her Corona del Mar home, resulting in a near total loss of the residence and many of their possessions.

Not knowing actually what happened, many friends and neighbors still wonder why Amy and her family have not moved home after all this time.

Today, after many sleepless nights, questions of why and how, doubt, pain, financial strain and more, Amy attempts to take readers through what she and her family have experienced in her own words.

It’s been one year since my house was catastrophically flooded for a second time.

The first time was more than three years ago. A friend rang our doorbell and said, “I think you have a problem here.”

That was a massive understatement. My family’s lives have never recovered from what happened that day, and what was to follow over the next three years.

Guest column Amy Senk SNN 11.17

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Amy Senk

Water throughout shows her furniture inside, floating

It was just past noon on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, and our friend was alerting us to a river of water that was gushing toward our house. I have come to learn that the river was approximately 90,000 to 150,000 gallons of water flooding most of my house. I called 911, a friend who works for public works and our city councilwoman. Firefighters showed up. We waited for someone to turn the water off, and eventually they did – but it was too late.

In less than an hour, most of our home was destroyed. The fire captain who showed us the damage warned us to stay on the edges of the rooms so we wouldn’t be injured if the ceiling collapsed.

My memories of that day are peculiar and vivid. I remember what a gorgeous autumn day it was, and how excited we’d been to invite friends over that evening for dinner. Instead, I sat on the curb in shock, texting cancellations, explaining what happened. I remember how difficult it was to find a hotel room on a Columbus Day holiday weekend and the slippery, thick mud on the floor and inside our car parked in the garage. I remember how helpless I felt as strangers began cutting holes in my walls, packing our belongings that didn’t get ruined and hauling everything else away.

Without warning, we were displaced from our home. We survived, of course, because that’s what you do. We found a house to rent and hired a contractor who got busy rebuilding. We were optimistic and told ourselves that our home would be perfect when we moved back in. We tried not to think about the things that were destroyed, the personal belongings we could never get back. We would one day return home. That was the dream.

Move-in was scheduled for November 2022. We spent some time unpacking our kitchen, moving fragile items to safe places. Most of our furniture was delivered on a Monday. We returned to our VRBO apartment to wait for the rest of the move to be completed.

That night, a neighbor called and told us it was happening again. That the same water main ruptured, and once again, water was flooding into our home.

Surely this had to be a mistake. I had asked city staff months before if this was a possibility, and they told me absolutely not. They told me this would never happen again.

As we drove, we made frantic calls to our contractor, to police, to city officials. Meanwhile, our phone was buzzing with incoming calls – other neighbors alerting us to the disaster. We were all in utter disbelief that this could have happened a second time, against all assurances. It seemed like a cruel cosmic joke that it would happen literally on the day we were moving back in.

As we drove, I was praying that it was a mistake, that maybe there was a water main break, but that it was missing our house. That it wasn’t as bad as the first time. That it was over already with no damage. Instead, we drove up to another flood, worse than the first one, with water pouring into our newly restored home. A police car sat with lights flashing on the flooded street, but there were no firefighters or public works employees there. I remember the water flowed and flowed, and I remember my City Council rep. trying and failing to contact someone who could turn the water off.

I remember sloshing through water past my ankles, in the dark, not able to go inside to see what was happening, but knowing from experience how bad it would be. My contractor arrived, turned off the power and went inside to take photos, videos and open the lower-level doors so that several feet of water could be released. His grim expression told me how terrible it was.

I don’t remember returning to the VRBO, and I don’t know how we got through that night. We had nothing. No budget, no home, no backup plan. We were tapped out. We were done. We called our kids, one working in Missouri and the other a college student, to tell them what happened. We advised our son not to come home for the holidays as planned. There would be no family reunion in our family home. We were devastated and numb.

Eventually, my husband managed to return to work, but I quit my job as a Stu News columnist. How could I cover the city fairly when I had been put in this position? After the first loss, I tried so hard to be positive and optimistic. I couldn’t do that anymore. I felt stupid, so stupid, for trusting that Newport Beach would keep me safe and protect my property.

Weeks passed, and the enormity of the second loss became clearer. A friend mentioned that if we’d been home when it happened, on the staircase or taking a nap downstairs, we could have been injured or even killed. The thought was, and is, chilling. We had discussions with a county supervisor, with the county assessor, who helped us with property tax relief. We took a hard look at our insurance policy and the ramifications of a second claim. Besides the emotional devastation, when you layer the complex economic implications, it keeps you up at night. We have not had a solid night’s sleep in the past three years.

We are resilient, and we do not give up. My husband beat Stage 4 cancer in 2007, so we know what it’s like to go through lonely and scary times. We have been grateful for good friends who check on us. We were living in hotels for weeks, and we were glad for every dinner invitation, every evening of escape. They helped keep us sane when getting through another day seemed like an insurmountable task, when getting out of bed each morning to face more bad news often didn’t seem worth it.

The last thing we worried about in this city was that the infrastructure was crumbling beneath our feet. We pay our taxes and put our trust in city officials and staff to protect us from disasters like the two we have been through. It is devastating to realize that trust was massively misplaced.

How could something like this happen twice? Why was nothing done to prevent a second incident? Was anyone on the city staff or on the City Council even a tiny bit concerned about the situation?

I sat with Mayor Noah Blom in October 2021, a year after our first loss and almost a year since he’d been elected. He had no idea my house had been destroyed.

People frequently ask why we aren’t back home yet. Most people don’t know the devastation that we’ve been dealing with, or even that a second water line rupture occurred. It’s frustrating, but we understand. We’ve created a sort of survival bubble, and we are keeping our heads down.

At the same time, we are aware that our sense of vulnerability doesn’t seem to be shared by other Newport Beach residents. We can’t take a walk without noting which homes would be wrecked if a water main broke nearby. Every neighborhood has a house that would be in peril. Sometimes I want to knock on doors and warn the owners.

It’s easy to see the negatives; there are plenty. Like, of all my daughter’s four years away at college, she will never be “home” for Christmas. Like the way we felt alone on July 4 after years of hosting parties. Like worrying about our primary investment, our home, that was officially declared worthless by a county assessor. Retirement has had to wait. Everything changed once, then changed again for the worst.

This week, November 14, marked the first anniversary of the second time the city’s pipes destroyed our home. Not just the structure, but all that a home represents: family, safety, stability, comfort, memories. Will we move back? Hopefully. But will we be able to trust Newport Beach to make us safe? Can anyone?

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