After the Flood: Sowing Charity From Tragedy

Kansas man builds orphanages to honor the wife and four kids he lost in a flood.

ByABC News
August 28, 2008, 4:36 PM

Aug. 29, 2008 — -- Five years ago this week, Robert Rogers was driving home from a wedding in Wichita with his wife, Melissa, and their four young children when a torrential downpour swept their minivan off a Kansas highway.

They were caught in a flash flood, later estimated at six feet high and hundreds of feet wide. As their vehicle filled with water, Rogers struggled to kick open a window and pull his wife and children to safety.

Instead, he and Melissa and their oldest daughter, Makenah, were instantly sucked through the window and into the raging water when the pressure inside their vehicle changed.

Rogers was the only survivor.

In the middle of the night, the van was found a mile and a half from the highway, upside down, with Rogers' three youngest children, Zachary, 5, Nicholas, 3, and Alenah, 1, still buckled into their car seats.

Several hours later, the body of 8-year-old Makenah was found a half mile from the van. Melissa, his wife of 11 years, wasn't found until three days later, in a retention pond, two miles from the highway. Rogers had to identify each of his family members.

Rogers told ABC News he repeated a mantra to himself over and over again in the days after the flood.

"We will get through this,'' he said to friends and family. "We will rise above this."

You don't get over the pain, he said. "You get through it.''

Five years later, Rogers said that he survived the mind-bending grief through his faith in God and through a novel charity project. He is raising money to open an orphanage on five different continents, each to honor a member of his family.

"When I was drowning with my family underwater in the darkness, I could literally sense the peace of God assuring me that they were all going to heaven and that it was all going to be OK,'' Rogers writes on his Web site, Into the Deep, which is also the name of a book he has written about the experience. "There was no pain. There was no fear. I continued to simply trust God. Somehow, he pulled me above the rapids and over to the shore. It's a miracle I'm alive."

Rogers opened an orphanage in Russia in 2006 to honor Melissa. It is a home for eight teenage girls. Construction has begun on a second one in Rwanda, in honor of Makenah. Robert says Makenah had an affinity for the African Children's Choir.