PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico (ABP) — As the relentless flood poured through the bedroom windows, Romona Juarez calmed her terrified grandson with the story of Noah's Ark. When she stood in the kitchen sink and the water – thick with silt – swirled around her thin shoulders, she led her family and neighbors in singing hymns.
Less than 72 hours later, stagger-weary from pulling her destroyed belongings out of her house and struggling to clear the piles of mud from the floors, she stood outside her church, Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, talking with Texas Baptist volunteers who had come to Piedras Negras to help “victims” like her.
Several times tears overcame her, but she quietly turned aside suggestions the story was too painful to complete. “I want to tell you everything that happened,” she insisted. “Because I want God to be glorified for what he did for us.”
Juarez, a 53-year-old widow, lives alone with her 30-year-old mentally handicapped daughter. On Sunday evening, April 4, two of her grandchildren stopped by to visit around 7:30 p.m., and the 12-year-old granddaughter, Alduvi Barrios, was agitated by reports that the Rio Escondido, 10 blocks away, was rising. The stream, which normally runs 12-16 inches deep, had not flooded in 100 years.
Less than thirty minutes later the unthinkable was knee high and the danger obvious. “I told everyone we were going to our neighbor's house, but my daughter was frightened and grabbed onto the door,” Juarez said. “Finally she let go but then she grabbed my shoulder. It hurt, but I got her and the two grandchildren to the neighbor's.”
Meanwhile, Juarez's neighbor went out to start the car and drive them to safety, but a surge of water swept over the hood, killing the engine and driving him back inside. He and his wife stayed in the kitchen while Juarez and her three charges went into a bedroom.
“This is God's will, He will take care of us,” she kept assuring the children. “And they were pretty calm until the bed started floating” after the water came through the bedroom window. At this point, Juarez said the neighbor went to get his boat so they could get out, which gave her the opportunity to tell the story of God saving Noah and his family from the flood with an ark.
But when the current swept the boat out of the neighbor's hands, 8-year-old Jorge Barrios panicked. “What will save us now?” he cried, clinging tightly to Juarez who was still trying to keep her daughter calm. “We have another ark that Noah didn't have,” she assured him. “God sent Jesus into the world to save us. He's our ark. He'll take care of us.”
But still the water rose. When the mattress was saturated, it began to sink, starting with the corner where Juarez's daughter, the heaviest of the four, was sitting. The daughter grabbed Jorge by the neck, choking him, until Juarez was able to make her let go of the little boy. Then, clinging to each other and wading through waist-high water, they forced their way into the kitchen.
Hoisting her daughter and two grandchildren atop free-standing cabinets that reached nearly to the ceiling, Juarez and the two neighbors stood on the stove and sink, the husband nervously checking the water level with his flash light and calling out reports as it steadily climbed. Juarez held her daughter's head, and the wife held her feet to keep her from rolling off into the water in her fear.
But before the water reached Juarez's chin, the flood halted. Alduvi recognized it first and called out in the darkness for the neighbor to check again. “It's down about an inch,” he agreed.
That was good enough for Juarez. “Let's all give thanks to the Lord,” she anounced. “God has shown us that the water will not rise any more and that it will go back down the same way it came up. We're safe now. Let's sing.”
So they did, joining in a song whose title literally translates as “On the Other side of the Sun” but has the meaning of “Just Over in Glory Land.”
Soon they discovered the water level was higher inside the house than outside and, once the neighbor was able to pry a door open, the last of the water rushed out into the night. The group huddled together and began making their way toward higher ground, meeting friends and neighbors who also had survived and who, like them, were among the 2,000 people now homeless in their neighborhood of 6,000.
“It was really cold, and we felt it more and more as we walked, but after six or seven blocks we came upon a rescue team,” she explained. It was now 2:30 a.m. — six hours since the ordeal had started.
The rescue team had been digging people out of the mud and helping them down from roofs and trees. When Juarez and the others appeared the team asked them, “did you escape all by yourselves?”
“No,” Juarez answered confidently. “We didn't get out by ourselves. God saved us.” Later at the emergency shelter, radio and newspaper reporters asked her where she learned the survival skills that kept her and her family alive.
“I haven't had any experiences with things like this,” she explained. “But I have a really strong God.”
— Photos available