Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Some flood victims despair as FEMA funds dry up

By Chris Echegaray • THE TENNESSEAN • July 14, 2010

Some area flood victims are facing even tougher financial struggles now that two months' worth of Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance checks have stopped coming.

For most, that was the first week of July. Those who applied and were approved received weekly payments based on family size, amount of damage and fair market value in the area.

FEMA paid out nearly $17 million to 6,226 homeowners and 4,667 renters in Tennessee displaced by the May 2 flood.

Awatef Hawsah lost her car, clothing and furniture and sustained damage to flooring in her home on Penn Meade Way near the flooded-out Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. She and her husband and daughter stayed for more than a month at Fiddler's Inn in the same area.

They moved in with friends in June after the motel asked them to leave to accommodate CMA Music Festival guests with reservations. They could have come back after a few days but chose not to.

"I've had friends give me clothes for my daughter," Hawsah said. "After we left that hotel, it's been bad. We are struggling. I'm being honest when I say we need some money."

After a homeowner files a claim, inspectors check to see if the home is habitable, FEMA spokesman Michael McCurdy said. They also check what is covered by homeowners' insurance policies. Flood victims do not get paid twice, McCurdy said.

McCurdy said he did not know whether flood victims should have received money if they stayed with friends or relatives.

Bobby Adkins, who lives across the street from Hawsah and also stayed at Fiddler's Inn until the festival, is a week away from leaving a friend's spare room in Murfreesboro.

"Most of the painting is done," Adkins said. "Things are getting settled now. The lights are back on when I'm driving to do some work at the home at night. That makes me feel good. It feels like home now."

His Pennington Bend neighborhood was one of the hardest hit by the flood that killed 23 people in the state. There are portable storage units sitting in the neighborhood and the constant sound of construction.

Gracie Berry moved into a Spears Road rental house near Brick Church Pike three weeks ago with the help of FEMA funds while trying to pay her mortgage on her Electric Avenue house in East Nashville. The flood moved it off its foundation. It will cost $80,000 to tear down most of it and fix the myriad of problems, she said. Her insurance won't cover it, and she was denied a government loan.

"I really don't know what to do," Berry said. "I still have to pay the mortgage. I may be forced to let it go."

After the flood, Berry was living in a Madison hotel with five children, one of her own and four nieces and nephews she is raising.

"It's good to be in a house that doesn't have a kitchen falling into the basement," Berry said

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