Bride, groom caught in historic Flood of '98 recount fears, rescue experience

SAN ANTONIO – In their 20 years of marriage, Joel and Jackie Allen have weathered some storms, but their first one was an epic one they'll never forget.

On the morning of Oct. 17, 1998, torrential rain began to fall in San Antonio. Within hours, much of the city, in particular the East Side, was under water. 

“It was just surreal,” Jackie Allen recalled. “I can still see the water. I can still see the image of the church.”

The church she was referring to was Wheatley Heights Baptist on F Street, where the couple were to marry that evening.

“Time told a different story,” Joel Allen said.

The rain rewrote their story 20 years ago.

Jackie Allen and her bridesmaids had gone to the church to decorate. Soon, she noticed the carpet was soggy and phoned the pastor.

“I said, ‘You know, I think it’s coming inside the church,’” she said. “After a while, it started coming in even faster.’”

Jackie Allen and her party decided to get out of the church and sought higher ground across the street on the porch of a home.

“I guess I was determined to get married,” Jackie Allen said. “The only two things I was able to save was my wedding dress and my marriage license.”

Her bouquet would be found later on top of a mound of mud.

Once on the porch, they were out of the water, but not for long.

“The water was coming too fast,” she said. “It happened so quickly that it was just surreal.”

It was also dark.

F Street had become a river. The danger was real and emotions were raw.

When Joel Allen arrived at the church, a crowd had gathered. He was frantic.

“I was informed they were still at the church, and I tried to get down, but the street was already flooded,” Joel Allen said. “When it got chest deep, the current started to push me.”

Joel Allen and Jackie Allen’s late father ran to retrieve a boat from a nearby cousin’s home.

“Joel, be careful, Joel,” voices from the crowd shouted.

Barricades kept them from putting the boat in the water, and seasoned rescuers from the San Antonio Fire Department advised him not to go in.

A rescue raft emerged from the darkness. On board were the youngest and oldest of the wedding party who’d been stranded. But there was no sign of Jackie Allen.

Joel Allen, his fears rising with the waters, pleaded with the rescuers to find her.

Finally, one more raft appeared. Joel Allen rushed out into the hip-deep water to embrace his bride-to-be.

Twenty years later, the couple recall the day and the lessons learned.

“Things don’t always work out the way you plan them,” Joel Allen said. “But, if you just have faith and keep going, it will work out the way it’s supposed to.”

It did work out.

The following day, Sunday, the couple attended church at New Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Joel Allen’s home church.  After services, they exchanged their vows: “For better or for worse.”

Joel is now the pastor of that church and the couple are celebrating their two decades of marriage by going on, of all things, a cruise.

The irony is not lost on them and neither are the  lessons of the day of the flood.

“I’ve learned that even when rain comes, the sun shines,” Joel Allen said. “The sun shines after the rain.”

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