Two families struggle to recover from floodby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
One month after the flash floods crashed through southeastern Minnesota, flood victims are beginning to get a sense of their futures. For two couples, those futures are a stark contrast.
Brownsville, Minn. — A mudslide flushed Lynn Partington's Brownsville home down the Mississippi bluff side. The landfills are too full to take any of the debris.
"Now we're down here burning our house, and what we did salvage is pretty much junk," says Partington.
Partington says his wife and grandson were trapped inside the house when the flood came. He was terrified. He could see the boy through a jammed window. Then his grandson found a crawlspace.
"Then he stuck his hand or his head out, because the house had separated. So then I reached down and I broke the siding and the sheetrock, and pulled him out of there."
Partington says he and his wife built the house stone by stone. It was their dream retirement home. They'd lived in it for 17 years and paid it off ahead of schedule.
Partington and his wife received the maximum FEMA grant of $28,200. The Small Business Administration valued the house alone at $500,000 and gave them a $200,000 dollar housing loan, the largest available. Partington says he doesn't expect to live long enough to pay it off.
"We're pretty much on a fixed income. I'm not going to go back to work," says Partington. "We're just going to have to live a little different lifestyle."
The Partingtons accepted furniture donations, and got a good deal on a condo. They hope to take advantage of the state's forgivable loans for people who stay in the area.
While the Partingtons worry about surviving with big debt, another couple in Stockton worries about surviving at all.
Bonnie Oldham has been calling volunteer agencies looking for help. She and her husband clung to their roof as the flood carried their house away. She's explaining to the United Way that, financially, she's desperate.
"Our house kind of floated down with us on it," she explains, "and it's just -- we don't know where to start. We got the FEMA trailer and that's a good start right there."
Oldham and her husband also got a $28,200 dollar grant from FEMA. But the SBA turned them down for a loan. Oldham says it was because of their mortgage. Five years ago, Roger Oldham had heart and kidney failure, and his medical bills ran to more than $100,000. His insurance didn't cover it, so the Oldhams mortgaged the house.
An SBA representative says the administration turns people down when their debt-to-income ratio is too high.
FEMA has no more money to offer the couple. So the Oldhams are on the Salvation Army's waiting list for housing assistance.
The Oldhams have very little income, and without a loan from the government, they're not sure how they'll make ends meet. While they're searching for money to rebuild their home, more debt is on its way.
Last Monday, Bonnie was helping a friend when a neighbor ran over to say Roger was sick.
"He said, 'You better go home really fast. Roger is on the couch and he hears this swishing noise in his head.' I took his blood pressure. It was 45 over 35. I knew we were in big trouble," says Bonnie Oldham.
Roger Oldham's lungs had filled with fluid, and now he needs another pacemaker.
"Yeah, I'm scared. But I don't think I'm any more scared than anyone else," she says. "It's just that I'm scared for his health, and I don't want this to take his life. It's not worth it. If we can rebuild, we want to. We want to stay here. He's been here 40 years."
Bonnie Oldham is worried the couple will have to sell their land to the state through a buyout program. Another option is for them to sell the home, but keep the land.
So do they hold out and hope a volunteer agency comes to the rescue? Or do they sell it all? And if they sell, where do they go when FEMA reclaims its trailer and Roger's medical bills are due?
"it'll all be all right. It will work out for everybody. We just got to be patient," says Bonnie Oldham.
- Morning Edition, 09/18/2007, 7:25 a.m.