Flood still keeps some lives on hold

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Thursday, March 5, 2009
— The flood of 2008 is only a memory for most people.

But for those still displaced since evacuating their Janesville homes in June, every day is a reminder of the upheaval caused by the rising waters.

Fifteen properties in the city were declared "substantially damaged" by the flood. A dozen are included in an application to the federal government's flood mitigation program. Most are in the Mole & Sadler's subdivision. Another is at 809 S. Jackson St.

Residents continue to wait for long-promised buy-out numbers from the federal government. They recently learned those numbers won't be coming through the state for at least another 1 1/2 months.

If the owners agree to sell for the offered price, their homes would be torn down. The city would own the property, but the sites would never be developed. The city and the state would split a quarter of the cost and the federal government would pay the rest.

If the owners reject the offered price and rebuild, they must do so according to federal flood standards, which would add to the cost of rebuilding.

Three buildings on Main Street already have been demolished by the owner, and the owner retains the property.

For now, most evacuated residents are living with relatives or friends or in apartments while still paying mortgages on their evacuated homes.

Those contacted said their dealings with the federal government and insurance companies have been frustrating, although the city has been "absolutely phenomenal," one resident said.

"I think it's hard for all the property owners right now," said Jennifer Petruzzello, director of neighborhood services for the city. "It's been a frustrating process.

"We all had initially thought the grant decision would come in December. So every time there's another delay, that's hard for people whose lives have been put a little bit on hold until they know what's going to happen to those projects," Petruzzello said.

The continued delays are grating on the families.

George and Debra Cullen, George's brother Jim Cullen and sister-in-law Cindy Cullen have homes along the river on Joseph Street. Both households moved out within an hour of each other.

"Everything is on hold," George said. "We can't make a decision until all the numbers come in. Everybody's in limbo, keeping up payments but having to live somewhere else the whole time."

If the city's offer is good enough, George said they'll "sell the house and get out of there." Otherwise, they'll "put it back together."

But he can't borrow against the home because of the flood damage.

"It's just a mess," George said.

Jim and Cindy, meanwhile, accelerated prior plans to build a home on property outside the city.

Don Norwood and his family are waiting, too.

Norwood and his wife, Beth, bought a home on Charles Street for his daughter and son-in-law. The young couple pay the mortgage and were on their honeymoon when the home flooded.

Now, they are staying with Mom and Dad.

"They're stuck," Norwood said. "They've been having to pay a mortgage on a house they haven't been able to live in for eight months.

"If they were to sign a lease into an apartment and then this buy-out doesn't happen, then they will have a mortgage as well as a lease on an apartment.

"Once we know what the disposition of the house will be, then we'll make some kind of housing plans," he said.

A buy-out is couple's first choice, Norwood said. The family has yet to reach a settlement with its insurance company, which is the national flood insurance program. That entity has been "dragging its feet for months."

The insurance would be moot if the city buys them out.

"Once we get the numbers, we will rebuild according to flood standards or sell out. There's no question what they want to do," he said of his daughter and son-in-law. "They want to get completely out from under it. It's too much to deal with."

Norwood said city staff has been great to work with.

"But there's only so much they can do," he said.

Last updated: 9:56 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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