Residents still scramble to recover from flood

Residents still scramble to recover from flood
By Gordon Fraser
Published: July 15, 2006 12:00 am

SALEM, N.H. – For Marcia McLaughlin, finding the money to repair her flood-damaged Azarian Road home has been a waiting game – a more than $12,000 waiting game.

“I’m in up to my ears having to pay this,” said McLaughlin, a 64-year-old widow with from Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. “It’s just a farce.”

McLaughlin said she’s most frustrated with her flood insurance company, which recently told her it wouldn’t pay for any of the damage to her home. She’s still waiting on word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

It’s the waiting that prompted McLaughlin’s decision to cash the certificates of deposit she had through her bank and withdraw the $2,000 in savings she had set aside for a trip to Hawaii with her daughters.

It also affected her decision to seek help from Rockingham Community Action yesterday, when the nonprofit organization had a workshop for residents who need help applying for local flood assistance.

With New Hampshire Republican Congressman Jeb Bradley on hand, residents filed into Mary Foss School on Lawrence Road yesterday, bringing with them pictures, receipts, letters from the federal government and, mostly, questions.

George Thirsk, executive director of Rockingham Community Action, said nearly half of the $425,000 raised by a recent telethon is available to residents of Rockingham County. Residents of other counties affected by the flood will receive the remainder of the money.

Thirsk said his organization’s main goal is to make up the difference between what people are actually spending on flood repairs and what they’re receiving from the federal government – a pretty big discrepancy, according to some who came out for help yesterday.

Donna Holahan, who lives in a first-floor condominium in Salem Crossing II, said she just got her letter from FEMA Thursday. The federal agency is giving her $5,400 for home repairs and $179 for miscellaneous repairs.

That money isn’t nearly enough to replace the furniture, carpets, Sheetrock and insulation in her condo, but she’s happy she got something.

“I keep saying to myself, I’m not as bad off as a lot of people,” said Holahan, who has been living with her mother since the May floods.

She said she went to the flood workshop yesterday to get assurance that the letter she just got from FEMA is actually a promise they will pay. She still hasn’t decided whether she’ll apply for local aid through Rockingham Community Action because she feels that others – those with young children, particularly – probably need the money more than she does.

Thirsk, the executive director, is encouraging everyone to apply, although he acknowledged the slightly less than $200,000 the agency is distributing now is not nearly enough to fund the damage. He’s looking for other funding sources.

While 2,400 people in the county have filed claims with FEMA, Thirsk said, only about 220 have filed with Rockingham Community Action. He hopes to get everyone’s application processed in the coming weeks and months.

But the real danger, he said, is the fast approaching July 24 FEMA deadline. If residents don’t apply to FEMA, they will have real problems getting assistance from the county nonprofit organization.

Applications to Rockingham Community Action can be submitted anytime in the next 12 months, but the organization measures a person’s need by subtracting federal aid from the total cost.

But as residents wait for money from the federal government and other organizations, they’re finding creative ways to fix their homes.

Jim Roach, a 63-year-old on disability for his reflex sympathetic dystrophy, said the FEMA inspector initially told him he had $30,000 in damage, although the FEMA award was less than $5,000 when it came.

The solution, Roach said, has been to do the work himself. He works a few hours at a time each day, being careful not to overexert himself, he said. Sitting in a chair with a cordless screwdriver, he’s been replacing the walls in his home. His two grown daughters have helped him.

Roach said he is replacing his interior walls with vinyl siding, in case his Haigh Avenue home ever floods again.

“It looks like tongue-and-groove lumber,” he said.

But, he added, there’s one key difference – vinyl doesn’t rot.

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