On a patch of higher ground that’s completely surrounded by water on all sides just outside Calvert City toward Possum Trot is a family of four for whom flooding is a way of life. Bettina Stevenson, her husband, Robin, and his parents, William and Debbie, are by no means flooding ‘victims’; they reside on a property where Robin’s great-grandparents raised the family that has remained since and the rise and fall of the river is just part of life.
Stevenson said they’re currently calling the patch of property above ground, “Stevenson Island,” and much of their entertainment comes from watching the critters wandering in and out of the yard, rabbits and deer and birds, some looking for food and some looking for a dry place to rest because their homes are under water. There is enough dry ground around them for a short four-wheeler ride, when they’re able to bear the cold temperatures. But as far as the eye can see is water, even through the thickets in the trees is water, creeping closer to the house and seeping into at least one of their garages, clearly visible from their bedroom window and just 10 ft. from their home.
Luckily, Stevenson said, Robin had the foresight to lift their home high enough off the ground that even if the river reached the historic 60.6 ft. crest of Feb. 2, 1937, the highest level documented, the water would only reach the door step. Their home is less than a mile from the Tennessee River and Cypress Creek is close by and while both contribute to the water they’re watching rise, Robin said it’s the backwater from the Tennessee River they’re taking on.
Stevenson and her husband work out of town hauling mail and Amazon packages from Cartersville, Georgia to Seattle, Washington, where they load back up with produce they take back to Cartersville, which is outside Atlanta. She said they typically run about 6,000 miles a week, working for six weeks at a time then coming home to rest for two.
She said Robin, who has lived on the same property his entire life, had been watching the rainfall forecasts and the levels of the rivers and nearby tributaries for about a month. During the last trip they were able to make, he told her they had about a week before they needed to get home. So they returned on Feb. 16 and began moving everything immediately.
Stevenson said they know when the water level reaches 49 ft., they start taking on water and on Feb. 20 it hit 49.5 ft. Once the water level reaches 53 ft., one of the garages starts taking on water; and when the water exceeds 2.5 ft. over the pavement, they have to transition from the extremely large and heavy tractor to the boats for transportation.
Preparation is as much a part of their lives as paying bills, she said, stocking food, water, kerosene, diesel fuel, plenty of wood for the stove and other necessary supplies year round. But when the water is on the rise, the Stevensons have a short window of time in which they can clear the garage floors, placing tool boxes and smaller equipment on higher shelves or hanging them from the rafters. They have a friend who allows them to park vehicles, tractors and other equipment in one of his fields that’s safe from flood waters—which they have to move before the water on the roads gets too deep.
For about a week-and-a-half, the Stevensons have been relying on the boats for transportation and they’ve only gotten out twice—once for sand bags and once for medication. Getting out of their home and into town requires a boat ride from their home to a spot with higher elevation, where they have a truck parked; they drive the truck to the next line of water where a boat is parked; they cross the water again to reach a car, which takes them into town. And if you think that sounds like fun, Stevenson said, imagine loading sand bags into that car, then into a boat, from the boat into the truck, from the truck into another boat, and from that boat to their garage.
They also have to prepare financially, Stevenson said, saving up at least a month’s-worth of income in case they’re not able to leave for work—which is their current situation. She said they’re fortunate enough to own their own semi and the company they work with is understanding but if they’re not on the road, they’re not making money.
Another running joke in the Stevenson house right now is how it’s become a riverfront property, offering boat tours—but the water can be quite isolating. She talked about a neighbor who had a horse that got sick and died because the veterinarian couldn’t get across the water to treat it. That neighbor is one who keeps in contact with the Stevensons and they check in with each other, especially if one is making a run to town. But it’s not all “doom and gloom” either, she said.
“It sounds silly but when you’re stuck out here in the water, it kind of takes the world away and you realize how much the people here mean to you and life is just that simple. I could get on a four-wheeler and go less than a mile until I hit water, but I can go there and see the sunset on the water with my husband and it’s beautiful,” she said. “There are people who have it worse—there are people who have water in their home. I have to take two boats but I don’t have to shovel water out of my house.”
“I’m not a gloom and doom kind of person but I feel like it just puts in perspective that maybe there’s so much stuff that we don’t need to do or have to do; maybe if everybody just slowed down and wasn’t worried about all the things and going out on Friday night…it’s just beautiful when everything is closed down and you’re in a field watching the sun go down,” she added.
Stevenson said the water should start receding this week and once it does, they’re looking at another four full days of labor to get their homestead in order before returning to work. They’ll have to remove the debris including trees, limbs, leaves and trash—whatever the river brought and then left behind. That chore list includes bringing out the chainsaw to clear up the roads so they can return their vehicles and equipment to their property.
But the worry isn’t over when the water recedes, Stevenson said. “It’s only the first of March. We still have another two months of rainy season so we could be right back here in a couple of weeks even if the water drops now.”
“It’s all part of living in this area. You have to be prepared for it. It can happen every year, but you hope some years it doesn’t,” she said. “But we have enough food and water and the people I love are safe and that’s what matters.”