Flood victims seek assistance, practical help
Heidi Zemach | For The LOG
Some 80 affected Seward area residents attend the multi-agency meeting on flooding Sept. 29, at the K.M. Rae Building.
Some 80 residents attended a public multi-agency emergency meeting Saturday afternoon, Sept 29 at the K.M. Rae Building auditorium. They shared their flood stories, gathered information about the state assistance that would be available for their losses, and got some practical advice on how to clean mold, treat their water, and begin the arduous process of documenting their losses.
With flood waters receding, these homeowners and renters, showing signs of still-frayed nerves, had already begun the unpleasant process of throwing out sodden carpets, molding furniture, drywall and insulation. They had spent days scraping layers of wet silt off walls and floors, sandbagging or heaping gravel in key areas in case of further flooding, or repairing their vehicles. Some were still wondering where they would live in the next days and weeks ahead while the cleanup took place. With snow already blanketing the mountaintops, and frost on the windows, the time left for doing many of these repairs was running out fast.
Shelly Armstrong and Joshua Coates, two renters from Eadsville on Salmon Creek Road, wanted to know when their reimbursement vouchers would arrive. They received lots of muddy water and diesel fuel running through their rentals, and had a household full of moldy items to remove. They were among a small group staying at Hotel Seward while they searched for a more permanent rental. Coates’ three cats had six kittens during the flood, and he had to wade through knee deep mud every day to check up on the kitties he left behind.
Virgil and Dawn Campbell, whose home and handmade knife store is at Mile 20 Seward Highway, suffered some serious losses to their store from a small creek nearby when Kenai Lake rose and overtopped its banks last week. As Virgil, and his neighbors fought to divert incoming flood water from coming into their home, I.R.B.I. Knives below was inundated with silty water that damaged his special handle materials, welders and other knife-making tools, and left their prize 100-year-old show cases warped and peeling. They were among several mom and pop small business owners wondering how they could be assisted.
Debbie Reed, who works with the State of Alaska Emergency Management Assistance Program, urged residents to do whatever they could to immediately deal with their damages, rather than wait for federal, state or borough inspectors, who will arrive sometime in the middle of October. She also gave some practical advice: don’t run generators inside homes, or try to heat up affected areas as heat speeds up the growth of mold, which can form in just two days. Do run fans and humidifiers, and generally try to air out flooded areas to keep molding to a minimum. Throw away all food that was in flooded areas, unless it had been stored in reliable air-tight containers. Remove all moldly carpets, insulation, furniture, blankets and clothing as soon as possible, and treat what’s salvageable with a water-bleach mixture or other disinfectant. Those handling moldy materials should always wear protective gloves, face masks and goggles but if raw sewage is the problem, call in an expert, she said.
The Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department still had 12 initial flood cleanup kits for people needing them, donated by the Red Cross, said Fire Chief Mark Beals. They contained essentials such as plastic bags, gloves, face masks, bleach, rags, scrubbing brushes and so forth. (For information on mold and water cleanup, call 855-445-7131.)
Officials stressed it was important for the borough to receive a collective record of the extent of everyone’s damage, and the total estimated cost of repairs, in order to receive a state and federal disaster declaration, leading to additional Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance. They urged all affected residents to carefully document the damage incurred with photographs and detailed descriptions. Residents should keep all of their work or purchase receipts, and damage repair estimates, and file those with the borough website, even if they don’t yet know the full extent of their damages, Reed said. (Visit www.borough.kenai.ak.us/emergency to describe the damages and expenses incurred.)
Through Alaska’s Individual Assistance Program, home owners can apply for up to $15,700 in compensation for structural losses to their primary residences, and for essential household items lost, Reed, said. Homeowners and renters who had to leave their homes also may qualify for certain other types of reimbursement such as temporary housing or transportation costs. Displaced renters may be eligible to be reimbursed for up to 3 months of temporary housing, while homeowners with uninhabitable primary properties may be eligible to receive funding for up to 18 months of temporary housing. Those who lost their main vehicles also might be able to receive some limited compensation for their transportation needs. Even though most people here aren’t covered by their home insurance for flooding, Reed said, those seeking assistance should file claims with their insurance in order to receive a denial. That denial will be considered as part of their eligibility. Nov. 20 is the last day to apply for compensation under the program. Alaska is one of only three or four states that offers its residents such assistance, Reed said.
Business owners may not be as lucky, however. There are no state or federal assistance business loan programs available to help them presently, Reed said. But people with businesses should nevertheless document their losses, and costs of repairs with the state, in case the federal government a federal disaster declaration is made, in which case FEMA may provide an assistance program to help them.
Bacteria water test kits will be made locally available for collection from Seward pickup sites next Monday Oct 8, 9 and 10 at the KPB extension building in the SeaView Plaza Building, 302 Railway Ave ., Suite 122. The timing is to allow flooded waters adequate time to recede. The well and water systems must be disinfected and thoroughly flushed prior to being tested. The information is available in the test kits, which cost $39. Meanwhile, people with wells in flooded areas should continue to boil their own water and allow it to settle in order to ensure that it is safe to drink. To get step-by-step directions, please visit www.flood.alaska.gov or contact the local DEC Soldotna office at 262-3420.
Scott Walden, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Director of Emergency Management, and City Manager Jim Hunt, gave an overview of what emergency planners faced as the remains of three separate typhoon storm systems hit the area. Sept. 17, two days before the storm deposited 6 inches of rain water on Seward in a single day, theSeward/Bear Creek Flood Service Area Board approved $30,000 in its own emergency mitigation funding, (half its annual budget) in advance of the flood in order to station heavy equipment and operators in two key areas: Kwechak Creek and Box Canyon dam. They did all they could, but were forced to bring the D9 out of Box Canyon after it became too dangerous, and the operator got stuck in the creek bed, and tipped over as water filled his cab.
While protective steps were prior to the city’s emergency declaration at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 19, getting more heavy equipment and trained operators to assist in flood mitigation efforts was initially difficult to do, Walden said. First, due to misinformation that the state Department of Transportation received which slowed down the permitting process, and later because Seward’s requests for equipment competed with other flood-affected areas statewide that also needed it, among them West Denali, Tanacross, Mat-Su Valley, Kenai Lake, Kenai River, Anchor Point, Primrose Spur and Cooper Landing.
By Sept. 24, the state had a total of three D9s, six D8s, plus some excavators and smaller bulldozers at work in the Seward/Bear Creek area, at a cost of about $30,000 per day, Walden said. This past weekend, they were moving much of that equipment to areas in greater immediate need, including Cooper Landing, Kenai Lake and Primrose Spur neighborhoods, which flooded later.
Friday afternoon, Sept. 28, the Kenai Peninsula Borough approved an initial $500,000 in state funding toward helping with mitigation efforts. The Seward City Council also voted in a special meeting to extend its state of emergency declaration by another 60 days.
None of the residents complained openly about the borough or city’s emergency response efforts during Saturday’s meeting. Rather, they directed their concerns toward the federal and state governments for not funding and building more reliable flood prevention infrastructure such as a more permanent water diversion structure at Box Canyon, which had been engineered and designed years ago. A few also criticized the State of Alaska for rules and regulations that prohibited the dredging of gravel from certain rivers and creeks to preserve fish habitat, and a legal ruling that requires the state charge cost-prohibitive minerals royalties for removing streambed gravel in navigable waters, even though it is done for flood-control purposes rather than for private gain. Glen Schiff, a perennial flood victim whose land is almost completely underwater off Nash Road, urged all residents to repeatedly phone or email their state and federal representatives, and those running for election, and tell them to help with Seward’s flooding issues in order to gain their vote.