Friends save Dupree family from the rising flood

COLUMBIA—“Buddy, if you’re coming, you need to come now.”

Aaron Dupree spoke those urgent words to friend Kevin Shalkham by cell phone as flood waters rose higher and higher in his home on Woodlake Drive in the early morning hours of Oct. 4.

Along with his wife Amy and their four children, he climbed to his master bedroom, the highest point in the house, to escape the brown current that started seeping into their downstairs shortly after sunrise. It was soon chest high in parts of the house.

Duprees-portrait-webThe Duprees, like hundreds of others in the Midlands, watched helplessly as unrelenting rains caused dams to break and flood neighborhoods like Lake Katherine, where they had lived since 2012.

They are among dozens of families who attend St. Joseph Church that were forced from their homes by the disaster.

One fellow parishioner, Kevin Shalkham, lives near the Duprees on Kathwood Drive and helped organize their rescue. He awoke before dawn to discover the neighborhood was flooding. When he looked out his front windows, he saw the taillights of the Duprees’ SUV and thought they were trying to escape their home.

“I called them to tell them not to try to leave and discovered they were still in the house,” he said. The car was floating away.

Shalkham started calling neighbors, searching for boats to rescue the Duprees and others trapped in their houses.

The first two boats wouldn’t start. Anxiety built, but eventually the neighbors were able to crank a pontoon boat and steered it toward the Duprees’ front door.

Emory, 8, was trying to keep her 6-year-old brother, Watson, calm as her mom and dad explained that a boat was going to come and they would carry the children outside. Emory’s words ended up inspiring the entire family.

“She said ‘You know, Watson, God challenges us but He knows we can handle it, and it’s going to be OK,’” Mr. Dupree said. “That was surprising to us. It was a very special moment.”

Aaron, Amy and their rescuers put life jackets on the children, hoisted them to their shoulders and carried them through chest-deep water out of the house to the waiting boat. A neighbor steered across the churning stream that used to be a street to Shalkham’s home on higher ground, where he and his wife found warm clothes for their friends as they took stock of how their lives had suddenly changed.

Within hours of their rescue, the four Dupree kids were playing with the Shalkhams’ children. Their resilience buoyed their parents’ spirits.

Family and friends made the first few days after the flood easier to bear by helping move furniture and other belongings out of the Duprees’ waterlogged home.

Mr. Dupree said they were fortunate they moved some photos and other mementos to the master bedroom before the waters rose. Several people organized a laundry brigade, and as a result the family was able to salvage most of their clothing. A lot of furniture and other possessions, however, were lost.

Right now it is uncertain if they will end up back in their neighborhood or what will happen to their house.

But two weeks after the floods, the Dupree family is working through their experience the best way they can.

“We’re being positive and we’re having faith, because that’s the only way we know how to be,” Mr. Dupree said. “I think this whole experience is going to teach our family a lot of lessons we’ll hold dear in the future.”

For now, they are preparing to move into a townhouse which will serve as their temporary residence, Watson celebrated his birthday with a group of friends, and on the morning of Oct. 18, the Duprees headed off to Mass together.