'Our Home Was Flooded After a Hurricane. We Were Still Inside' 

On September 2, 2021, my wife and I woke up our sleeping children—our 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter—and told them we were going to do something silly. I then proceeded to climb out our first-floor window, where I waited until my wife passed me the children, one after the other.

The kids loved the window exit because it was fun and unexpected. My wife and I loved it because it saved us from carrying the little people through our flood-ravaged first floor where the "remnants" of Hurricane Ida brought 4 and a half feet of water into our home, destroying virtually everything in its path—including the kids' playroom and their beloved collection of toys.

The flooding started around midnight, about a half hour after the two-day downpour ended and I was convinced we'd been spared from the catastrophic damage our area had sustained throughout the day.

I've spent most of the last year trying to forget certain details about that period, but now I remember the look on my wife's face when she woke up to find her home taking on water, the feeling of wading through my living room in search of items we could save, the sound of glass shattering as furniture toppled over.

Jared Bilski's home before and after storm
Jared Bilski's home before and after Hurricane Ida. The home was unlivable for a month, due to the water damage. Jared Bilski

After about an hour of futilely trying to keep the rushing stormwater from entering our home, we retreated to a post on the landing of our second floor and tried to figure out our next move.

We debated waking the kids, climbing out the window we eventually exited out of the following day and heading to a hotel. But by that point, all the roads out of our secluded, dead-end street were closed.

Instead, we monitored the flood's progress up our stairs and kept pushing our evacuation plans a little further back.

If the water comes up to the first step, we'll grab the kids and leave through the window.

If the water comes up to the second step, we'll grab the kids and leave through the window.

My wife and I stayed up through the night, listening to the hypnotic swooshing sounds of the newly formed river that flowed right through the first floor of our home. If it wasn't for the occasional jarring crash of a large object—the kitchen island, the water heater, the bar cabinet—being toppled, the sound would've been quite relaxing, like one of the sleep tracks you'd find on the Calm app. Just before dawn, the water started to recede.

Almost everything on our ground floor—from the walls, flooring and cabinets to the appliances and furniture to a handwritten family history my great aunt had sent us a few months before her death—was destroyed and our home was unlivable immediately after the storm.

Jared Bilski's deck
The deck of Jared Bilski's house in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Bilski's home was flooded with 4-and-a-half feet of water. Jared Bilski

The first night, we stayed at our friends' who were away on vacation. Dan and Talia not only opened their home to us, they also went out of their way to fret over the little things that could help: a tray of snacks and comfort food and a text that read "... if there's any toys the kids were having fun with, take them with you."

It foreshadowed the many acts of kindness, both large and small, from friends, family and neighbors that helped carry us through the year we spent rebuilding our home and our lives.

Rebuilding out home

A week after the storm, President Biden granted a Major Disaster Declaration in Pennsylvania, which meant FEMA Aid was available to us—money we very much needed since we didn't have flood insurance.

When all was said and done, and our contractor and the other workers were paid out, it cost around $100,000 to rebuild our home.

I fully expected to empty out our retirement accounts to pay for the repairs, but we were beyond lucky in the financial department. Our neighbor set up a GoFundMe, and we received $27,000 from it, plus another $6-$7K from people who didn't trust the world's largest crowdsourcing platform. FEMA gave us $20,000, and the Red Cross donated an additional $1,500.

As soon as we were physically able, about a month after the flooding, we moved back to our active construction-site of a home, which for all intents and purposes was divided into two: The living quarters upstairs and the construction zone downstairs.

Jared Bilski's children
Jared Bilski's children sit on camping furniture, after their furniture was destroyed in the flooding. It cost Bilski and his wife $100,000 to rebuild their home. Jared Bilski

For the better part of a year, we fell into a rebuilding routine. We'd wake up in the morning, often to the sounds of jackhammers, saws and power drills, get the kids ready and safely escort them past the construction area when it was time to leave for school.

After dropping off the kids, I'd return home, lock myself in our bedroom with my laptop, put in some headphones and drown out as much of the noise below as I could.

How I managed to keep my job as an editor for a medical publication during that post-flood, early-rebuild period, I still have no idea. But at the time, I didn't mind the chaos. In fact, I got so used to the crew that I begged my wife to add Kevin, Victor, Joe, Larry, Jesus, Keith and Frank the plumber to our Christmas card.

Little by little, the place came back together. First, we replaced the drywall we'd ripped out ourselves. By Christmas, we had floors again. We entered 2022 with an operational kitchen, and by late spring the final task, a brand-new front door, was installed and we were back.

Jared Bilski's home repaired
On the left: Jared Bilski's home in the aftermath of the flooding. On the right: Bilski's home after it was refurbished. Jared Bilski

A year after the flood destroyed the first floor, we'd managed to successfully rebuild the home we almost lost thanks to the help and generosity of friends, family and neighbors and some much-needed disaster-relief funds from the federal government. It could've been much, much worse.

But this story is far from over for me. For the first time since the flood, I'm thinking about what happened. I was so focused on getting my family back to normalcy that I never stopped to ask myself if I was OK. And I'm not.

The emotional toll

Now that we've rebuilt, all I can think about is preventing the next disaster—and knowing how powerless I am to do it.

A natural disaster alters your entire perspective on control. The flood shattered any illusions I had that I was the one calling the shots. It was as if the storm had removed all the blind spots that kept me from seeing all the myriad dangers right in front of me.

Jared Bilski with his wife and son
Jared Bilski with his wife, son and dog, on the day they moved into their home. Bilski and his family decided to stay in their home after they rebuilt it. Jared Bilski

Many people view their home as a sanctuary from the outside world. Think of how good it feels to curl up under a blanket with a book or a mindless reality show while a storm rages outside your door. When that outside world invades your safe space and destroys everything in its path, it changes you.

Now, every time I see a major storm in the forecast, I wonder, "Is it happening again?" Every time the rain lets longer than my weather app's prediction, I feel my body tensing up and preparing to flood my system with adrenaline and cortisol.

Odds are, it will happen again. Extreme weather events are fast becoming the norm throughout the U.S. My family understands this, and yet we choose to stay right where we are because we love our home. The flood insurance we've added should protect us financially, but I worry about whether I can withstand another hit emotionally.

Jared Bilski is a writer and comedian based in Pennsylvania. He is the creator of the River Build Rebuild newsletter and is on on Twitter @JaredBilski.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com