By Joyce May
The Cove Herald
Debbie Williams sits on the concrete floor of her home sorting through a stack of papers and letters of mostly bad news, her frustration and near hopelessness evident as she recounts what her family has been through in the past four months.
She and her husband, Vincent, who are both disabled veterans, have been denied FEMA assistance despite repeated appeals and were told last week that they could appeal 100 times, but it wouldn’t make a difference.
Their home on Rocky Lane flooded during the first severe weather event March 30, and not having friends or family in the area who could accommodate them and their five children, they worked as quickly as possible to clean up the mess that the storms left behind.
“Being proactive on our part, we have to pay for it in the end,” Vincent said. “We have no family here ... we pretty much had to fight for what we had here.”
Debbie and two of her children have severe asthma, which has been aggravated by the exposed concrete floors, forcing them to use their nebulizers more frequently. Their funds are depleted, and they cannot afford the carpeting their home needs to help control dust and other aggravants.
Their plight highlights the need for an extension to the June 29 presidential disaster declaration that made federal funding available to flood victims of events from June 16 through early July.
Initial federal assessments indicated that not enough homes sustained enough damage or were destroyed to qualify the county for FEMA assistance.
The family videotaped the damage as evidence for their insurance and FEMA, but the couple said the inspectors who came to their home were not interested in viewing it.
Being retired, they are not eligible for some programs available to active duty military.
The couple said they were focusing on getting the house in livable condition and were therefore unable to save the children’s winter clothes, stored in a shed behind the home, from mold and mildew. The family is now approaching the start of the school year unsure how they will provide clothing for their five children.
Their homeowners’ insurance also denied their claim, and they have been denied a Small Business Administration loan because their credit to income ratio is too high. The letter said their existing financial obligations would make it difficult if not impossible for them to repay the loan.
Renee Townsend lives across the pond from the Williams, for now at least. She lives in constant fear that the dirt embankment meant to hold the pond waters back will give and her home will be no more.
“That water came out. It was angry. That was some mean water,” Townsend said pointing at pictures of the floodwater rushing like rapids over her yard and home.
Her home also flooded March 30 with her 16-year-old son and his 18-year-old friend trapped inside. They were rescued by neighbors who tied a rope to a tire.
The soil around her foundation is eroding, what once was a backyard is now a ravine, and she said it is just a matter of time and a couple more severe storms before her home ends up like her husband’s Cadillac did — 1.3 miles downstream from their home.
Townsend, a certified medical assistant and mother of four boys, said she pays more than $4,000 in county taxes and can’t understand why something cannot be done to help her.
“I am tired of living to be afraid of being in my own house,” she said. “They should have never built houses here.”
Her husband deployed to Iraq two days after the flooding, and although the Red Cross paid to have him come home two weeks to help her sort through things, he was sent back and with the deployment extensions is not expected home until February.
While she has received assistance from Operation Homefront because her husband is active duty, Townsend was denied FEMA assistance also.
She was also denied an SBA loan, but that was just as well she said.
“Why would you want to take out a loan? I don’t need a loan. I don’t want a loan,” a frustrated Townsend said. “You are going to end up and get behind on that and your house payment and will end up in foreclosure.”
Both the Williams and Townsend expressed frustration that they and their neighbors had been forgotten about in the near-secluded subdivision. There is only one road in and out, and the roadways are not only eroding, they are not sufficient for the traffic flow.
County Judge John Firth said he is continuing to pressure state and federal elected officials to push for the extension.
FEMA officials in Austin have not returned repeated phone calls inquiring about the status of the extension request.
FEMA officials on the public assistance side continue to tour public infrastructure sites within the county to determine a project list, a process that could take two months.
Coryell County Commissioners’ Court will continue to hold workshops to assemble and process road, bridge and culvert damage information needed for both state and federal disaster recovery applications.
Contact Joyce May at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-0428