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Flooded-out families cope with evacuation

July 01, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Sixteen families called the Fairlawn Gardens apartment complex home, until 7 feet of water flooded the basement of their building more than a week ago.

Now, with assistance from the Red Cross, all are staying at a motel about a mile from their homes and eating at a nearby restaurant.

Because the water knocked out electricity, gas, phone lines, hot water and other services, the families could not stay in their building, said Fay Cardinal, property manager for the seven-building apartment complex off Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg. None of the other buildings was affected.

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At the motel Monday evening, residents gathered outside for a meeting with Sharon Fouch, program manager for the local chapter of the Red Cross.

A cheer greeted the news that the families might be able to return home by the Fourth of July.

"It beats sleeping on the floor, but it's not fun," said Sue Hairston, who was sharing a motel room with her husband and three children. "It's very stressful."

Dawn Brown was staying in a motel room with her husband and two children. A maintenance worker for the apartment complex, she had to knock on doors to tell people to evacuate at around 1 a.m. on Sunday, June 21.

What upset her the most, Brown said Monday, was telling people to evacuate, but not giving them anywhere to go. Hairston slept on the floor of her church. Brown, whose job prevented her from leaving the complex, slept in her van.

Brown asked that it be printed in "big, bold letters" how much the Red Cross is helping. The Red Cross was paying for hotel rooms, along with meals. Most residents are eating at a nearby Denny's restaurant.

Cardinal said the rain that fell on June 20 pooled outside of the building, then started pouring in through basement windows.

Water came three stairs away from coming into first-floor apartments, Hairston said.

The building that flooded is in a low-lying area. No personal belongings - other than groceries - were destroyed, residents said.

Professional clean-up crew members are scheduled to arrive sometime this week to steam-clean the basement, disinfect and deodorize it. Electricity and other services are supposed to be turned back on soon, Cardinal said.

The owners of the apartment complex might be able to receive financial assistance, since the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently declared Berkeley County a disaster area.

Bland Franklin, a public information officer for FEMA, said homeowners who have suffered property damage because of flooding need to call the agency's toll-free number, 1-800-621-3362.

During a 10- to 15-minute interview, a FEMA representative will obtain a brief description of the damage and then schedule an appointment between an inspector and the homeowner.

If the damage was minor or easily fixed, FEMA will issue what's called a minimum repair grant, Franklin said.

More serious damage may enable the homeowner to qualify for rental assistance and a low-interest disaster loan, Franklin said.

Jess Mauck, who lives in Horner's Subdivision, said he hopes FEMA money can be used to build culverts in his neighborhood. Several houses were flooded in that subdivision and deep, standing water had not receded by Monday. The subdivision is off W.Va. 45 on the line dividing Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

Culverts might help divert the water to a nearby wetland, Mauck said.

Obtaining federal money for such a purpose is possible under FEMA's mitigation program, which seeks to prevent future damage. Roads in the subdivision that Mauck said have been damaged could possibly be repaired through FEMA's infrastructure program. Local government officials would need to apply for that assistance, Franklin said.

At the motel, Fairlawn Gardens residents continued to ask questions. They wanted to know whether their rent would be adjusted to subtract days spent at the hotel and whether they will be reimbursed for meat and other groceries lost.

Despite all the questions, they all agreed on one answer. Asked how badly they want to return home, four women replied in unison: "Extremely."

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