Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Senior citizens struggle in flood aftermath

Applying for aid, moving and new costs further upset lives By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • May 19, 2010 Eva Hooper is 76 years old and all of 4 feet, 9 inches tall. She escaped the floodwaters that drowned two of her neighborhood friends by standing on a kitchen chair, holding high her Chihuahua and her diabetes medication. She lost the West Nashville house she'd rented for three years, along with all her clothes, pictures and other possessions. Hooper stayed with a friend until Tuesday morning, when a new apartment opened up. But it won't take Rusty, the 6-year-old dog who is her constant companion and medical alert system. "You really wouldn't ask me how I am doing if you knew everything I've been going through," Hooper said. "That water came up so quickly and just changed everything." In many ways, senior citizens face the biggest challenges recovering from the May 2 flood, which Metro Nashville officials estimate damaged 9,400 properties. For some, filling out a form online at is like speaking a foreign language. Most don't have cell phones. Even those in the best circumstances depend on a carefully planned retirement that doesn't include taking on home repair loans, moving to new neighborhoods or being cut off from their social circles. U.S. Census data show senior citizens are more likely than any other group to live alone. About 11 percent of those in Davidson County were living in poverty in 2008. Many rely on government programs for medication, food and income, and those programs don't quickly adjust when a crisis happens. For senior citizens to recover, said Eugenie L. Birch, a professor of urban research at the University of Pennsylvania, younger people with help to give must knock on their doors. "What's often needed are mobile medicine and medical care units, counseling services and honest people — not scam artists — willing to roll up their sleeves, remove the wet stuff and help fill out the forest of forms," said Birch, an editor of the book Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers can't do it all In Hooper's case, life before the flood was a delicate balance on $913 a month in Social Security income. She rarely drove but had a car that was lost in the flood. She had a few friends in her neighborhood, including Martha England, 78, and Andy England, 80, who drowned in their home after rescuers came through the neighborhood urging everyone to get out.

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