Last week, a nearly 100-year-old farmhouse located along Highway 25 was surrounded by a sandbag fortress. By Wednesday afternoon, all the sandbags were removed and other demolition work was well underway.
Before the major flooding event made its way to Faulkner County, everything was normal for Jeff and Karen Underwood. The Wooster residents live in a farmhouse that was built in the late 1920s. They moved into the home along Highway 25 a year and a half ago.
The couple was out working on its yard on May 26 when a local firefighter stopped by to warn them of the imminent threat. At the time, the couple had not taken any precautions to prepare for the flood. Karen admitted she was unaware there was a flood of historic magnitude expected.
Karen said she and her husband are thankful for Andy Broom for stopping by not only to warn them of the impending flood, but also to prepare their home from the approaching disaster.
“He stopped by the Sunday before Memorial Day and we were out here trimming trees. We didn’t know there was a flood coming to be honest,” Karen told the Log Cabin Democrat on Thursday. “It’s because of him that we started this, and he helped us a lot.”
As the flood waters began seeping into the couple’s yard, 1,500 sandbags worked to keep the waters out of the home. But, that wasn’t enough.
“It just started seeping in through the sandbags,” Karen said. “We took turns sleeping and would stay up pumping water out all night. Finally, we just couldn’t keep up.”
Those who lived in the old farmhouse prior to the Underwoods were also surprised the waters began to fill the residence.
Jim Martin had lived at the home for 10 years and suspected the flood waters would reach the barn that sits adjacent to the farmhouse. Another woman who lived at the home for 43 years said: “I can’t believe it got passed the barn.”
The Underwoods didn’t expect the waters to surround their home, either.
“We just kept saying, ‘It’s not gonna go past the barn,’ and then we would watch it come up here,” Karen said.
Flood waters that spilled onto the Underwood property from the East Fork Cadron Creek filled the living room area of the couple’s home. Prior to the waters making their way into the home, the couple moved most of their belongings to higher ground. But, moving keepsakes and furniture wasn’t enough to prevent damages to the home’s foundation.
An architect inspected the home, noting damages to the kitchen floor, which is part of the original foundation of the home, were affected by the historic 2019 Arkansas River Flood. Karen gave the Log Cabin Democrat a tour of her Wooster home on Thursday. Upon walking up two steps from the living room area into the kitchen, the foundation begins to seep downward. There is also a soft spot in the couple’s master bathroom.
Regarding damages to the master bathroom, the couple will have to have a contractor tear the entire floor out so other damages can be fully assessed and the flood-ruined floor can be replaced. The couple will move into their guest house for the next coming months as repairs pick up.
Before the flood made it’s way to their home, the Underwoods worked 12-hour days to protect their home. Now that the flood waters have received, they are still working 12 hours a day to clean up.
The incident “was surreal and exhausting,” Karen said.
“Once it got to 8 or 9 inches, we thought: ‘Oh, that’s going to be it.’ But it got up to about 15 inches here,” she said Thursday while pointing to a yardstick pinned to a pole in front of the couple’s garage.
The two tried to hold off the waters as long as they could before moving into their guest house.
“After a couple nights of pumping water and realizing we just couldn’t keep the water out of the house, we finally called our insurance agent,” Karen said. It was time to file a claim, and wait for the waters to recede.
“We were trying not to file a claim,” she said. “It’s almost like [the situation is] worse that you realize. We didn’t think all of this stuff would get damaged, especially the foundation. Part of it is because the foundation is so old. It’s held up. The architect said wood will last forever, but here’s the thing, it’s been lasting since 1930. We could here the water closing in the house for days.”
Time almost stood still when waiting for the waters to move out of the area. But, “once it started to go down, it went down.”
Karen recalled getting excited every time she noticed the water level would drop “even a quarter of an inch.”
Through the chaos, the couple is determined to keep the home’s rich history alive.
“That’s our big thing, trying to maintain the integrity of the history of the house as much as we can,” Karen said of the many additions former residents have made to the old farmhouse. Earlier this month, she said that while the flood was devastating, she and her husband were encouraged and inspired by the many stories others had to share of the residence the Underwoods now call home. “That’s what’s so special about it. We feel like we’re taking care of something of someone else’s.”
The couple used the sandbags that fought to protect their home to fill soft spots on the farm and to create a wall on their property near where they practice shooting.
Now that the event is winding down and the clean-up phase is in full force, Karen said she and her husband have learned the drawbacks of having “optimism bias.”
In the future, the couple knows to “prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.