Life Flashes Before Eyes in Flash Flood

I knew, any second, the torrent of brown water was going to start coming in through the car doors. I watched the current drag along all sorts of jungle debris, adrenaline pumping as my mind flashed between survival scenarios.

Adorable "Nemo" in its symbiotic home.

Just a few hours before, the  sun had slowly scorched our skin as we snorkeled along a vibrant reef that Pat described as, “The most beautiful I’ve ever seen.” Huge fish and tiny fish, bright fish and dull fish, clown fish and parrot fish, needle fish and angel fish all flashed and darted through the fascinating coral gardens. Enormous sea stars, clams the size of babies, squishy sea cucumbers, and speedy squid also called Menjangan Island home.  We thought nothing of the darkening sky as our boat’s little engine propelled us from “the best snorkeling in Bali” back to the mainland for lunch.

We didn't have umbrellas or trenchcoats, but the downpour was about like this...

We took the last bites of our beautifully cooked fish, noodle soup, and tasty salad just as the first drops of rain began to fall. A downpour developed within thirty seconds. We shrunk away from the pelting drops as we dashed to the car. The storm blasted through its own intensity record every two minutes, raining ever harder, wind blowing more and more fiercely, trees bending ever closer to cracking.

We had crawled only about ten miles when the five vehicles in front of us came to a stop.   A freshly fallen tree blocked both lanes. As we peered through the torrential haze, another tree came crashing down on top of the blockage. My eyes darted to all the car-crushing trees still standing as we quickly ran through our options. I jumped out and dashed up to the scene, instantly soaked to the bone. I discovered two men with machetes hacking at the blockage — at that rate, easily a two hour job.

Pavement started to disappear under water...

We decided to turn back and take the road over the mountains, a decision that became ever more justified each time we crossed a new stream flowing over a low point in the asphalt of the coastal road. Conversation in the car was tense as we pieced together what little we knew about being trapped in a flash flood. The impromptu streams got deeper and deeper, and we cringed more and more severely at each crossing. We were still several miles from any paved road heading to high ground. Every turn-off we passed leading into the mountains had a froth of brown rushing down it — completely impassable. Finally the streams across the highway became rivers. We made it through three beasts, each time breathing a huge sigh of relief once across, swearing we wouldn’t cross another like that. We knew there was no turning back. The scary crossings we’d already made would only be deeper and more swift.

Some ran about rescuing things from rising water while others just stood and watched.

I mentally recorded every “high spot” we passed. I worried incessantly about the pointlessness of remembering a spot only three-feet higher than everything else. I spotted flooded homes on both sides of the road, courtyards filling, water flowing in front doors, people piling things on top of tables, others standing frozen watching the horror unfold. The coup de grâce of the flooding stopped us in our tracks. In front of us, it looked the like the Hoover Dam had sprung a leak as a froth of water boiled and raced across the road. Our jaws dropped when the people of this land of “karma” and “insahallah” dared to cross. “This is the stuff tragic tales are made of,” I thought, as we turned back for the last three foot rise in the village we were passing through.

A chunk of the highway torn up by the raging flow!

We parked, and I again braved the rain to confirm that we really were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or a fallen tree and a flash flood, actually. Already the newly-formed “river’s” banks were stretching forty feet on either side of the main flow. Tentatively, I waded in amongst the motorbikes, pedestrians, trucks, cars, and SUVs piled up. As the fierce current threatened to sweep my legs from under me, my eyes landed on the source of the trouble. A road leading up and away from the coast had become a racing river strong enough to tear up a chunk of pavement the size of a car where it intersected the main highway. The screaming water continued to tug at the now-vertical piece of asphalt. A group of teenage boys had taken it upon themselves to direct traffic for this new one-lane spot.

Water blasting skyward off the shins of a teenage boy standing on the edge of the racing flow.

I watched in horror as a few huge trucks rolled through the narrow gap, knowing I was standing in a spot that would mean a quick death if the chunk of highway was finally torn loose in my presence. The water hit the bare legs standing near the main flow with such force that it sprayed into the air. I stood mesmerized for a few more minutes, snapped a few photos and got the hell out of there!

It would have been a relief to know then that our worries were mostly over. We discussed, the rain lightened, waters (aside from the monstrosity in front of us) began to drop, and we turned back to check the status of the fallen tree (one lane was cleared) feeling sympathy for and rubbernecking all the flooded homes we passed along the way. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope I never do again!

Ah, but we did heaps more than “almost get swept away in a flash flood” when my parents came to visit. That will be the topic of my next entry. Until then, stay dry! ♣

Someday I’ll post the video we took (Dad: wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

Photo link credits: rain run.

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