Agony Continues For Flood Victims

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Information technology (IT) employees living a dream life in the country, a construction worker and his wife soon to watch their daughter be married, a 71-year-old grocery store employee who will not be able to retire soon. These people all have one thing in common – they have all been devastated by the flood of 2011.

     All three victims had insurance, but none are sure at this point whether or not their damages will be covered. They are hoping for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), but according to recent reports, the disaster relief fund, which spends about $35 million per day, is running out of money and limiting its disaster relief fund to immediate needs.
     Joe Gartner and his wife, Michelle, own a home on 195th Street west of Glenwood. Michelle works in IT at Union Pacific in downtown Omaha. Joe used to work in IT but currently takes care of the kids and works on getting two homes back in order.
 “As part of our closing, we were shown an inundation map,” Joe said. “Because of where our house sits, we were not required to buy flood insurance. They (the bankers) said even in a 500-year flood, we would be OK.”
     The Gartners had done everything “right.” They had savings and were living within their means, even with a home and a lakefront property in Missouri.  Their lives, like the lives of so many others south and west of Glenwood, changed in June, when they were told to get out because the floods were coming.  They moved into the basement of Michelle’s mother’s home in Waverly, Neb., which is on the edge of Lincoln. The living quarters are tight.
    “Everyone does have a bed,” Joe said. “We’ve fashioned a bedroom for the kids out of a large closet. Someone usually sleeps on the couch down there.”
    Although the road to their home is open, they cannot move back.
    “Everything that the house runs on, the well, septic, etc., has been flooded,” Joe said. “At this point, I estimate there is an 80-percent loss of property, and that is with us doing our best to move all our belongings upstairs before all this started.”
     Not only has the flood affected his basement, but the hail storms of Aug. 18 and 22 damaged his roof. He did not know this until Sept. 23, when he was allowed to see his house for the first time since June.
    “Insurance is asking why I am just now filing the claims,” Joe said. “Well, I couldn’t get into my house before.”
    Joe is not fixing the house at this time. He has two claims open on his insurance and is waiting to see what happens with them before he starts to renovate. In addition to their mortgages, they are paying $400 a month to his mother-in-law to help with bills. Their children, a 14-year-old and 10-year-old twins, had to change school districts this year.
    “I know they aren’t happy about it, but they are adjusting,” Joe said. “We have to.”
    Sheila and Richard Almquist own a home on 190th Street. They, and their cats, currently live with family in Bellevue. Two dogs live with Richard’s aunt, and a pet bird stays with Sheila’s mother.
    The Almquists have been fixing their home. Richard started a remodeling and construction business this year after being laid off. He previously worked for 20 years with Hawkins Construction, and said he has never had to deal with a construction problem like this before.
     The entire basement was ruined due to 4 feet of standing water.  The carpeting was saturated and rotting, the walls were moldy, and in some places mold was visible on the supports. The couple have already removed all the drywall and flooring, yet a faint lingering odor of dirty water remains. Richard said structurally, the house is fine.  The foundation was not ruined. The building inspector still estimated the home needs $30,000 in repairs. They are currently paying for the remodel out of pocket.
 The couple had just spent $7,000 to remodel their basement bathroom when their home flooded. The entire $7,000 bathroom has gone into a dumpster, which cost the couple $161, plus the cost of waste removal.
    At this time, Richard estimates the couple removed three to four tons of waste out of their basement, but they have not received the final bill.
    They also pay $200 per month for a storage unit in La Vista and bought three to four dozen plastic storage bins to pack their belongings into.
    Richard and Sheila bought a flood insurance policy on June 3 that covered $150,000 for the building and $60,000 for the contents. Due to a one-month waiting period, the policy should have gone into effect on July 3, but they do not know if this happened. They received a letter on June 6 that has made Richard furious.
    The letter states “Based on the flood-in-progress exclusion … for coverage to be effective for losses caused by the flood resulting from the water release from Garrison Dam, N.D., a (policy) must have been in effect prior to June 1, 2011.”
    “We have asked, and the insurance people said our chances of getting help are really slim. Yet, they still sold me that insurance,” Richard said. “That right there is what makes me really mad.”
    Flooding began occurring along the Iowa side of the Missouri River in late May.
    Sheila worked across the street from her home as the concessions manager at Mid-America Motorplex. She lost her job along with her home and is currently collecting unemployment, but has not yet found a job.
 “Our daughter, Michelle, just graduated from college,” Sheila said. “Michelle and her fiancee, (Matt Bartles) wanted to get married in September. Financially, we can’t do it right now. Maybe next summer.”
    Sandy and Gary Ware own a home on Waubonsie Avenue in Bartlett. They moved in the middle of May to her brother’s rental home between Riverton and Hamburg.
    “We thought we had to move in a hurry, so we packed the house in one day. We moved with the help of family and friends. My husband rented a 50-foot van. If I had known we didn’t have to move in quite such a hurry, I would have gotten things organized a bit more. We have things in a double garage that I haven’t even looked through yet.”
    Sandy, a front-end manager at Kaiman’s/No Frills for 29 years, has gone from a 12-mile commute to a 40-mile daily commute.
    “I used to go Highway 2 to the Interstate. Now I have to go Highway 275 through Sidney, through Tabor, hit Highway 34 and go to Glenwood.”
    Like the Almquists, the Wares lost part of their income at the same time their expenses increased. Gary hauls grain in the fall, and that business has suffered due to farms being flooded. Sandy knows of two farmers in the area who lost their crops, and she estimates they will lose at least half of their grain hauling income.
    The couple have been back briefly to look around their property, but they haven’t assessed their damage.
    “I had about 5 feet of water in my house. I imagine by now it’s down to about 2 - 3 feet. We lost the furnace, hot water heater, AC, electrical box … if the water isn’t out of there by winter, the pipes will freeze.”
    “I’m hoping insurance comes through. If not then we’ll probably have to stay right where we are. We’re too old to start over. If we were younger, we could probably get a loan. ”
    Three different couples in three different situations all uttered the exact same statement of despair.
    “We didn’t make this mess, but we have to fix it.”