Problems for property owners still linger months after historic 2015 flood

Problems for property owners still linger months after historic 2015 flood

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Close to a year and a half after high waters flooded out properties around Columbia, finding closure continues to be a quest for many affected homeowners.

"We don't know what we're gonna do," said 51-year-old Carmen Bowie of Columbia. "I'm left continuing to pay for something I can't live in for the next couple of years."

Bowie said she had to deal with constant recurring flooding around her Harrison Road home. She said the October 2015 flood proved to be the breaking point as floodwater washed through the house forcing her to evacuate.

"Anything in my house pretty much from my neck down is gone," Bowie said. "I had a few pictures on the wall…a lamp…and that's it."

With mold now contaminating her house, Bowie has been one of several property owners seeking relief from the city and the federal government. In all, about 40 in Columbia alone are seeking to qualify for funds from the Hazard Mitigation grant Program.

The program, which is being offered through FEMA, would help the city purchase properties that suffered significant damage during the flood and are prone to flooding again.

MORE: Dramatic before and after photos of flooding across the Midlands in 2015.

"I just don't feel like I can get a straight answer," said Lisa Henderson, of Columbia, who is also being considered for the funding. "It's very difficult to have answers…and I think that they're all…the city… is trying to work through this because they've never had to deal with this before."

Statewide South Carolina was awarded about $40 million in HMGP funds to help with recovery from the 2015 flood.

In Lexington County, there are 10 applications being considered for help from the program. The problem for both city and county officials is not knowing when FEMA will fully assess the incoming applications.

"We've not been given any guarantees on a timeframe," said City of Columbia flooding director Missy Caughman. "We've had to provide additional information [to the applications] so it's an active process. It's not that there's not anything - that they're just sitting. It is an active process. It is a lot of information. [It's] a lot of requests because obviously buying up homes you know these are public dollars. They have to be spent a very particular way."

Caughman added that FEMA has currently pushed the deadline for the program ahead to April.

"A lot of this has been due to the fact that there have been so many other events [natural disasters]," Caughman said. "Just since last year, in between West Virginia, Baton Rouge, additional fire - there's been floods and other significant weather events. Just since the city went through the floods in October, the state itself has gone through [Hurricane] Matthew so all of those impact FEMA and the state and those resources that there are available to be able to do the assessments and review."

Other area homeowners have been seeking help to get much-needed repairs done to their properties.

"I was afraid the roof would fall in," said Bernice Summers, who has owned her Columbia home since 1974. Summers says the roof of the house suffered significant damage during the 2015 flood and that caused other problems to form.

"All the parts of this opened in here," she described, "and this part was hanging down and it just fell completely on me then…and then I had to have it torn down and all of my heat and everything was going up into the ceiling."

Summers says she was denied help when she applied through FEMA. SBP, a volunteer group working in partnership with the United Way of the Midlands, eventually came to her rescue to work on the necessary repairs.

"There are lots of people that are on the waiting lists. There are over 800 open cases right now that the case managers are sorting through," United Way of the Midlands Senior Vice President for Community Impact Anita Floyd said.

Floyd says the United Way and its partners are still actively seeking volunteer help, donated building materials and financial support to help affected homeowners get back on their feet.

"That's why this past October, we wanted to accelerate the flood recovery and so what we did was create kind of a movement or campaign called 'Restoring Hope,'" Floyd said. "And that is where we're actually asking the community come together and remember that this flood we have not recovered from it."

Since the epic flood, the groups have worked together to tackle about 150 housing repair projects.

If you'd like to get involved helping the United Way and its area partners with their mission, click here.

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