(Photo from Weather Channel Live feed via Charles Peek)

Eyewitness account tells of heroic actions by staff, first responders and volunteers.

A massive flash flooding event in Brandon Wednesday displaced 42 senior citizens at PeachTree Village Assisted Living Center. On a typical weekday, seniors there are treated to their three meals, their snacks, bingo and onsite beauty services. But in the span of an hour, a typical morning turned into anything but as flood waters from a nearby creek overtook the building.

Staff noticed the waters approaching the building. As water began to seep in, they temporarily moved the residents into the hallway to await instructions. The water continued to rise. Evacuation protocols began, and by the time they were completed, mobile elders and staff were led by ropes and first responders to buses on higher ground. The water was waist deep.

The Weather Channel reported on the evacuation live.

Emergency personnel carried some of the seniors with mobility issues, while still managing to grab their walkers, wheelchairs, canes, etc. Everyone reached the Rankin County Safe Room and PeachTree personnel immediately began contacting area homes for placement for the seniors. As waters receded, family members rushed to the home to begin grabbing their loved ones’ valuables, and nurses were on site to deliver any medicines to elders lucky enough to be heading to the homes of local family members while waiting to be placed.

The heroic efforts of the PeachTree staff, first responders and dozens of volunteers cannot be overlooked. Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey mobilized water rescue teams to the home quickly, and then made sure those elders made it to the safe room. The training these responders had prepared them for a horrible situation which could have very easily been much, much worse.

Once at the safe room, the elders were blanketed and fed. Many area volunteers began to bring clothing items for the seniors. Two restaurants were able to provide hot meals.

The PeachTree Staff were still with the residents, or bouncing back and forth between the corporate office, the Rankin County Safe Room, and the flooded facility well into the evening. PeachTree admin were standing outside in their still-soaked clothes answering the onslaught of questions from family members and the restoration crews that showed up to work through the night.

PeachTree nurses were doling out medication to family members of the elders from the back of a vehicle in the parking lot of the facility. Each of the residents had their medicines in labeled bags, with the nurses checking all the proper information for accuracy and safety. They were able to do that because of quick thinking– they grabbed the paper manifest of the medication lists for the patients on the way out of the flooded building.

Local churches immediately sent volunteers to the safe room to hand out clothing items and be with the elders to support them. Brandon area restaurants sent hot meals to the elders to help break up some of that chill that got down to their bones.

Focusing on what is, not what could have been

Joy Carter is a resident of PeachTree. She has Parkinson’s Disease, which has caused mobility issues. She relies on a walker due to poor balance. As the waters rose to waist deep, a first responder carried her out, while someone else grabbed her walker. She got out with her walker, her wallet, and her phone which, she admits, is usually left where she can’t remember where it is, and her family can’t reach her without calling the home to check on her.

But every single time, the nurses chat and laugh with her as they help her search for it, usually found in the basket of her walker.

The idea of “what might have been” isn’t lost to Ms.Carter or to her granddaughter, Courtney Ingle of Crossgates.

“Nana has a rough time with her balance on a good day,” said Ingle. “She can’t always stand up straight because she has to push her walker. The idea of her falling in waist deep water is not an idea I like to dwell on.”

Ingle was able to get to her grandmother quickly at the Rankin County Safe Room.

“I had called the home to check on Nana whenever my husband told me he saw a ton of first responders heading that direction when he picked up our daughter from school,” Ingle said.

Her husband, Jeremy, had just spent over an hour trying to get to their daughter’s preschool.

The Ingles live in Crossgates, which also experienced heavy flooding.

“I called the home because Nana doesn’t always carry her phone with her if she’s out and about within the facility,” Ingle said. “But the call wouldn’t go through, and that’s when I called her phone.”

Ingle said a nurse answered her phone.

“She said, ‘We have water all in the building, I’m getting her out now,’” Ingle said. “I didn’t ask any other questions other than whether or not Nana was okay.”

Within 30 minutes of that call, Ingle had an update that her grandmother was safe and being medically evaluated at the Safe Room. Roughly an hour after that, she was told by PeachTree personnel that if she wanted, she could come get her grandmother.

“It was the saddest thing, all those people soaking wet and cold and obviously shaken up,” Ingle said. “I don’t know that all of them have a local family.”

Ingle noted that her grandmother’s furniture would most likely have to be trashed due to the waters, but her most sentimental effects were typically stored higher and therefore were kept dry.

“It’s all just stuff, I don’t care about it,” said Joy Carter, an 86-year-old resident of the home. “It can be bought again.”

“All of the stuff is just… stuff. It can be replaced. These people can’t be,” said Ingle.

Ingle said Ms. Carter is doing fine, and she’s in overall good spirits.

“She is definitely upset by what happened, but she’s strong and stoic,” said Ingle. “But that’s Nana for you. She’s always lived one day at a time, one step at a time, kept her faith and kept calm. We could all take a lesson from that instead of dwelling on how bad it could have been.”