Couple waiting for flood closure

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
CeCe and Richard Huston are among the Iolans still awaiting closure of their recovery from the 2007 flooding that destroyed more than 100 homes in Iola.

CeCe Huston confesses to being a bit sentimental at times.
Occasionally, she prods her husband, Richard, to take a drive around their old house site.
“Sometimes I cry,” she said. “Sometimes I go just to feel bad. I loved that house.”
Their former home, at 721 South St., was among more than 100 that were rendered uninhabitable following the 2007 flood.
Still, the Hustons took no special trips to their old neighborhood Tuesday, two years to the day after they evacuated amid historic flooding. Their doublewide trailer has long since been removed as part of the city’s voluntary buyout program.
But even more than 21 months after the couple relocated to North Sycamore Street, a few loose ends must still be tied before their flood recovery is “officially complete.” Their sticking point comes in waiting for relocation funds provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the city.
The Hustons sold their home to the city in January. FEMA relocation funds are added assistance that affected homeowners can receive to help transition to their new residences.
Aside from the few who received the funds early on, the bulk of displaced Iolans have yet to receive the assistance.
“After we signed the closing papers (selling the flood-damaged property to the city) in January, we were told to look for the relocation funds within a week,” Richard said. “Then, we were told to check back in a couple more weeks. At this point, I just want to get it over with.”

THE HUSTONS awoke the morning of June 30, 2007, to find that a night of torrential rains forced the normally tranquil waters of Elm Creek roaring past its banks.
“We didn’t think the water would get that high, because we were told when we moved here that the house was a full foot above the flood stage,” Richard said.
At mid-morning the river’s edge was about three blocks to the south of their house. By noon, the water was a block away.
“It was about 1 p.m. that the water had made it to the street in front of our house,” CeCe recalled. “A police officer pulled up in a boat and told us we’d better leave.”
The Hustons fled with their cat, Richard’s prescription medicines and “a couple of bags of clothes.”
“We weren’t going to be able to move anything else,” Richard said. “Even if we wanted to, we didn’t have anything to haul it with. Second, the rain was still falling pretty heavily that morning, and everything would have gotten wet anyway.”
The Hustons left as the water continued to rise. It eventually peaked that afternoon about 3 feet above the floor of the house.
Unlike many displaced flood victims, the Hustons had a place of refuge. They also own a trailer near Blue Mound at Lake Chaparall, which became home for the next six weeks.
They returned to Iola to begin the arduous cleanup after floodwaters receded. Sifting through the waterlogged home, CeCe slipped on some leftover silt, breaking her ankle.
“Richard did all of the cleanup with help from volunteers,” the next four days, she said.

THEIR OLD house had special meaning, the couple acknowledged. After buying it for the relatively paltry sum of $11,000, the Hustons invested nearly $25,000 to refurbish the home. They handled most of the labor themselves.
“It was perfect — just the way we wanted it,” CeCe said. “We wanted to stay there.”
A pair of post-flood inspections, the first by FEMA, the second by the city, nixed that idea.
“The inspectors took one look and said, nope, it was too damaged — a total loss,” Richard said. “The floor was beginning to buckle.”
The Hustons had two options: build anew after elevating the foundation at least 3 more feet, or find a home elsewhere.
“We really didn’t want to have to go through all of this again,” Richard said. “We didn’t want to buy a piece of (junk) that we needed to fix up again. We just wanted something like what we had.”
Two months after the flood — after checking on dozens of vacant homes in the area — the Hustons found their new abode, a small ranch house on North Sycamore.
Aside from a deep freeze, some cabinets and a few odds and ends, the Hustons had to replace nearly everything.
“We were able to keep our dishes, but all of our furnishings were ruined,” CeCe said. “We tried to let some things dry out, but the mold was something we couldn’t contend with.”
The Hustons had homeowners insurance, but no flood coverage, so they relied almost solely on federal and state assistance to relocate.
They received their first FEMA payment, $28,800, in 2007, plus another $1,200 from the city six months ago to complete their home buyout. The funds helped the Hustons pay off the mortgage of their old home and put a sizable down payment on their new house.
The Hustons are unsure how much relocation assistance they’ll receive, although it’s certain not to cover all of the expenses they’ve incurred.
“We figure the flood cost us about $45,000,” Richard said, in part because they moved to a more expensive home.
“The bad part is that we had about six years left to pay off the mortgage of the old home,” CeCe said. “Now, we have a 15-year mortgage. And I’m 66.”
The Hustons also have health issues to contend with.
Richard hasn’t worked at Gates Corporation since February because of lung and heart ailments and a bout of pneumonia. CeCe, who works at the Iola Senior Citizens Center, has battled breast cancer.
The Hustons stress that they aren’t in the mood to complain.
“We just want people to know that there are several in the same boat as we are,” CeCe said.
Rather, the couple simply wants finality to the situation.

THE END of the city’s buyout program is close, Iola’s code enforcement officer Jeff Bauer told the Register Tuesday.
The city is still working with about 10 homeowners willing to sell their flood-damaged properties, although it’s unlikely all 10 will be able to clear their property deeds in order to sell.
“We’ve just closed on one of the properties and two others are close,” Bauer said. “And it’s looking like the relocation funds will be paid soon.”
CeCe, originally from Leavenworth, was asked by relatives if she’d consider returning to her hometown.
“No, we want to stay in Iola,” she said. “I’ve grown to love this town.”