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Monday, September 19, 2011

Flood Victims Must Make Tough Decisions

As the Missouri River recedes, flood victims like Marilyn Roueche of Plattsmouth are returning home and finding what little is left of their former lives.

"The mold is so terrible in there. It's just unbelievable. It's on the ceiling and everywhere. It's eating the walls. And the cupboard doors -- they're falling off," Roueche said.

She and her husband, John Adkins, took most of their belongings and left their house along the river June 8. They rented a house in Plattsmouth and returned for the first time Sept. 6.

Inside their house, they found a stinking mess. Black, toxic mold. Seven feet of water in the basement. Floating sewage residue.

Their house appears to be a total loss. They are waiting for the insurance adjuster to make that decision and issue them a check.

"It's going to be condemned," Adkins said. "I don't think there's any way we could live in it."

Roueche said they would like to take their insurance money and rebuild near the river -- on much higher ground. Before the flood hit, they had lived there 17 years.

Nebraska emergency management officials have identified 1,164 houses that are damaged by flood water in some way, said Dave Haldeman, administrator of the waste management division for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Most of the houses are up and down the Missouri River, but there are also some near North Platte, which experienced floods earlier this year, he said.

DEQ officials are involved because severely damaged homes could be torn down and trucked to a landfill, or burned where they stand with the proper permits.

Haldeman said it's too early to tell how many homes will have to be demolished because they have to wait until the water recedes enough and things dry out.

"Cleaning up all of this will probably carry over into next summer. I don't think it will be this fall. It will be a longer cleanup process than probably what you would anticipate," Haldeman said.

It will be up to property owners to decide what to do with their homes, he said. Some will try to salvage what's left and rebuild.

"We're not intending to go out and do inspections. If they decide that the home or structure is so damaged and they want to raze it, we will offer them guidance and clarification," Haldeman said.

Farmers who want to demolish flood-damaged houses or other structures can dig a pit on their land and bury the debris. They can also burn it.

Property owners who decide to burn must remove any asbestos and any other hazardous materials, and haul away furniture and other household items, Haldeman said.

They also need to contact local fire officials, who will then ask the Nebraska State Fire Marshal to issue a burn permit, he said. The fire marshal will then contact the DEQ's air quality section for another permit.

Burning is the last option as far as Haldeman is concerned. He said the state agency prefers to have flood-damaged structures demolished and the debris trucked to a construction debris or municipal landfill. That goes for any ashes or other charred material left after a burn.

"I think we are looking at all of the options," Haldeman said. "This is a unique situation, but the procedures we are following are not unique."

In Iowa, local and state officials have identified nearly 700 homes and businesses that were damaged by flood water, said Kathy Lee, a senior environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Lee said the total number could be higher.

"That initial number addressed homes that were highly damaged or completely lost to flood water," she said. "We anticipate additional structures that have minor to moderate damage as well."

Lee said the state agency doesn't anticipate there will be much burning done in the six counties along the Missouri River impacted by flood water. She said most structures will probably end up in a landfill.

"I don't see widespread burning as a way of disposal in Iowa at this time," Lee said. "We tend to discourage it."

The reason: health concerns for people living nearby.

Lee said her agency insists there be at least a quarter-mile separation between burn areas.

"That doesn't lend itself to wholesale burning up and down a river corridor," Lee said.

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