Hi, my name is Lindsey Coplin and I'm helping the Thompson family raise money to cover the loss of their camper and belongings. Leslie is my dear college friend and her and her family went camping with us this past weekend where the "Waverly flash flood" destroyed her camper. Here is the account of what we experienced together:
My family, dear friends, and now newly trauma bonded friends lived a living nightmare and miracle this weekend. I'm still reeling and processing the flash flooding we experienced at Piney River RV Resort in Bon Aqua, TN. We were part of the "Waverly flooding" that is making national news. The water rose so quickly.
I have no idea how much it actually rose, but I'm guessing at least 50 feet within just a couple hours.
We arrived Friday night around 7pm to one of those few and coveted waterfront campsites. Our neighbors on both sides of us along with their collective 7 dogs arrived around the same time too and we met them. It was really foggy and our kids went down to the river at dusk to play before bed. My dear college friend, Leslie Michelle Thompson, her husband and 2 children had joined us to have a relaxing weekend reunion. We both decided not to unhitch our trailer from our truck "to keep things simple" and do less work. We even didn't put on our xchocks or chock the camper wheels, which later helped us save our car and camper, but if we had them on we would have lost it all.
That night it started raining and storming around 3:30am. I had a weird feeling and woke several times in the night to thunder, and asked Luke to go check on the water level since it had been raining so hard and so much. I woke again around 6 and asked Luke to check again. This time the look of terror on his face said it all. I looked out the door to see water rushing under the camper and over our camper steps so I couldn't see the ground at all...a sight that will not get out of my head. The water was rapidly rising as we got over 14" of rain in such an acute area.
I immediately got the murphy bed up, slide and awning in, and kids to the car. Another sight that won't leave the flooding loop in my head....tossing Archer with no clothes on into the truck, the water rushing into the truck floorboard, and struggling to shut the door. While Luke unhooked the electric and water from the camper and was shocked in the water from lightening that struck. In the process of all that is when I dropped my phone in the flood water. We both got in the car and I told Luke to go go go. He didn't realize he still had his emergency brake on. We were able to pull the camper out even though the stabilizers and steps were still down. As we were pulling out I saw that my friends were getting out, too. Someone had knocked on their door to get out. We were out but most others were not. I think from the time we woke up until this time it was less than 3 minutes.
After I settled the kids in the truck, I ran back down to grab all that I could and thinking that just maybe I could find my phone (stupid trauma brain) and pick up the chairs we had put on the picnic table that was now floating away in the water. We then realized that there was a camper and truck still trying to get out but they were stuck. Luke heard someone struggling in the brush that was near our campsite. It was a woman, but when he and my friend's husband, Nicholas, went to walk to get her the water was rushing too hard. Luke then locked arms with a stranger (who turned out to be our campsite neighbor) and Nicholas and they walked out to get this woman. Luke had her grab his arm and kept telling her to grab with both of her arms but she couldn't seem to. Turns out she had broken her arm.
After they got her out, she pointed to her elderly parents and their 2 dogs who were in a big gray truck that was stuck with the camper connected. More panic set in as the water was quickly rising to their window and they kept having to move higher. First they moved to the truck bed and then eventually on top of the roof of the truck all while several people were attempting to save them. Hoses, ropes and ratchet straps were being tied together and anchored to the fence to try to toss to them, but the water was rushing too fast. The owner of the campground put on a life vest and tied up to the rope, but couldn't make it out to them after 2 failed attempts. The final attempt was trying to get a kayak out to them to no avail.
While the men were trying to save the elderly couple, I remember at one point Leslie and I grabbed each other and bawled in an embrace, but the story wasn't near over. We tried to distract the kids and get them into her camper to get some breakfast. The picture of the muddy blinds is what we pulled down to attempt to shield the children from seeing the following events of people floating down the river...It continued to pour rain and lightening struck all around us.
Meanwhile, the couple somehow had found a cooler, put their small dog in it, clutched the other dog under their arm, and clutched onto the cooler handles to float down the river. People ran to catch them where the river narrowed. That's when we realized that my friend Leslie's camper was now trapped on the fenced in road by the flood water.
We quickly got all 4 kids out of Leslie's camper and back to my truck and I sat with them while the men tried to get his camper out. Having the kids ask why this was happening and if everyone is alive as we watched campers float down the river was surreal and hard for me to keep it together. Trying to shield their eyes from seeing too much...I just kept saying I'm thankful we have each other and that we are alive...that it's all that matters and that material things can be replaced...lives cannot. As the water continued to quickly rise with no way to safely drive their camper to higher ground, the men realized they needed to unhitch and at least save Leslie and Nicholas' SUV. They had to rip up fence posts to get the car out and then we worked on getting as much stuff out of their camper as we could. How we all didn't get struck by lightening in all of this is an absolute miracle.
Us along with Leslie's family and my camping neighbor, Heather, with her boyfriend, Luke, and their 4 dogs all stuck together for the remainder of the day as we kept moving to higher ground and coming up with game plans to stay safe. Heather lost her 6 month old airstream and had nothing to wear. I gave her my shoes and Adele's raincoat. Our other neighbor who came with his 2 sons and 2 of their friends, his wife and 3 dogs were able to get out in time, but also lost their new camper. 7 of the 12 waterfront campers were swept away down the river.
We all came together at the highest elevation of the campground, Piney River RV Resort's newest addition, which was about 100 feet elevation above where we were camping on the waterfront. We were trapped with no way out of the campground...surrounded by water. Even at that highest point we were so terrified and were still creating rescue plans on how to get out on foot if the water continued to rise. There were creeping thoughts of death in our heads.
The owner called a meeting at 11am to gather food, water, make sure everyone was accounted for, medically tended to and help them find a place to sleep for the night. We all became dependent on one another for water, food and shelter. The generosity and care that was shown to make sure every life mattered is the miracle in this mess. From those that took those precious seconds to knock on doors instead of rescuing their own stuff to the men, here's lookin at you Luke Coplin, that put their life on the line to help others and even a mother who shared her breastmilk for another infant. And we just happen to have a nurse camping that helped bandage an arm, eyebrow gash, and a slashed foot. The sheriff helicopter came to rescue the elderly diabetic woman who had floated down the river and lost her meds and her daughter with the broken arm. Later a military helicopter flew overhead. We thought we'd be there at least a week as we watched the water rise and then start to fall and the looming threat of another flash flood on the way.
Meanwhile, Leslie and I made the most of it, got in our bathing suits with the kids and had them run around catching frogs and going on walks. I'm so proud of the kids and their attitudes and resilience even though we know how much counseling this trauma will take. As the water level lowered, we started looking around the campground. We found Leslie's camper on it's side up against a tree, several campers crashed together, and the campground office had water marks that went to the door jam. At one point we had 8 adults and 4 kids and 4 dogs sitting under our camper awning eating "lunch".
Around 3pm people on 4 wheelers came by and said that the water was down enough to come through. Our new friends from the flooded tiny home (Ben and Jennifer), Heather and Luke, and Leslie's family all decided to get the heck out since they only had their SUVs left. At our final campground meeting at 3:30 we were told a way to get out to stay on high ground. Since our camper had suffered some damage due to pulling out with our stabilizers and steps down, we had to patch it up some before hauling the hell out of there. We passed over some water and were able to leave the campground around 5, but I cannot believe we left that same horrific day. There's no way I could have slept there, with no electricity or safe water and with the looming threat of more rain. I couldn't be more thankful to be home and safe. Again, truly a living nightmare and miracle all at the same time. Thank you for reading my story.