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Thousands of people in the St. Louis area are still coping with flood damages

Sunday, September 28, 2008 | 5:15 p.m. CDT

UNIVERSITY CITY — Thousands of people in the St. Louis area are still coping with the destruction and inconveniences left behind after the area was hit by flash flooding on Sept. 14.

Hundreds of homes have been condemned pending repairs, and some still can't be lived in. And many of the homeowners have no flood insurance and will not be able to get relief from the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday.

The flood ruined the bungalow Leniel Fields' mother owns, where he has lived off and on for 33 years. Fields, 41, a forklift operator currently is sleeping in what's left of his 1994 Thunderbird, which was also damaged by the flood.

After the Sept. 14 flood, University City condemned the house and told Fields, his mother and younger brother it was not safe to sleep there.

Electrical repairs to the house would cost $4,050, according to one estimate. The family needs a furnace, water heater, washer, dryer and at least one car - plus replacements for Fields' younger brother's furniture, computer, clothing and most of his school books.

But the family has no flood insurance, and so far has not received any relief from the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

So Fields, his mother and brother are leaving the home.

About 275 homes in University City were condemned pending repairs.

"Tragically, a large number are without any financial assistance and have lost everything," said Julie Feier, the University City city manager.

Parts of Hazelwood, Brentwood, Florissant, Ladue, St. Louis and St. Louis County and parts of the Metro East in St. Louis also were hit after remnants of Hurricane Ike sent creeks and tributaries over their banks.

Streets are still lined with piles of ruined furniture, with the smell of mold and mildew in the air.

Many hit by the flood say they aren't going to get any help from insurance or other agencies.

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District offers up to $2,400 damage from a sewer backup. But Lance LeComb of MSD said many applicants would not get aid because a "significant portion" of the 4,900 storm calls received the first week after the flood involved "overland flooding situations, which are not related to the functioning of our sewer system."

He continued: "What people need to understand is that if they live in a flood plain ... it's not a matter of if it's going to flood, but when. You have to protect yourself with insurance."

Lehman Walker, director of community development in University City, said most code requirements had been relaxed for flood-damaged property "except in cases of health and safety." He said the only properties still condemned posed structural or electrical dangers.

For Ester Moore, Fields' mother, flooding from a 45-minute cloudburst on Sept. 12 destroyed her car and left her sons' cars barely salvageable. At dawn Sept 14, the rain came again. "We left when it came through the front door," she said.

Tonya Frango, Moore's daughter, said that her mother "is not someone who depends on the system. She works hard every day. She has had her job almost 40 years. She's lived in the house 33 years."

Moore is a secretary to the housekeeping director at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Co-workers helped scrub her house, and her boss arranged for a power washer.

She doesn't want to leave University City but doesn't believe she has any choice.

Moore has been staying with her daughter but plans to look for an apartment, as will Fields and his younger brother.

Mindful that a man and woman from University City drowned in the flooding, Moore said she was grateful that her family was unhurt.

"My faith hasn't faltered," she said.

 


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