As rainwaters receded or were pumped from basements following Sunday afternoon’s flash flood, homeowners began trying to figure out what kind of help was available. And many are learning that their homeowner’s policies will not cover the damages (see below) — nor is much aid expected from the government.
By Wednesday afternoon, Jared Fink and his fiance Donna Frassetti were entering their fourth day of cleanup at their South Gilbert Street home. Fink and his cousin were scraping up wet dirt and loading buckets for another trip to the backyard. Sunday afternoon’s flooding in the Powell area had dumped a slurry of mud and water into the basement of their house, ruining all of their appliances and “tons” of personal possessions.
Adding to the bad news, the couple’s insurance adjuster has explained that none of their losses will be covered, suggesting they instead look for a loan from a local bank, Frassetti said.
“It’s a bad deal all-around, and I’m not looking for a handout,” she said. “But it’s frustrating when you pay your bills on time and you think you’re doing the right thing and then they, say, ‘Oh, sorry, go get a loan.’”
On Wednesday — as Fink took his third day off of work to clean up the basement — Frassetti wondered what assistance might be available.
“Is there any form of aid where people can get maybe lower-priced appliances or help in cleaning out?” she asked, adding, “If there are any resources where people can get some type of assistance or victim aid or something like that, none of us know about it.”
South of town on Wyo. Highway 295, also known as Road 9, Kevin Lineback was still assessing the damage after roughly 100,000 gallons of water rushed into his basement. The 7 feet of water ruined just about everything on the lower level — including a 105-year-old bedroom set that his grandmother had purchased, another bedroom set, a water boiler, a washer and dryer, a hot-water heater and other items. The Linebacks only had enough time to grab some family pictures before having to shut off the power.
“We just couldn’t get it out fast enough,” Lineback said. In the coming days, he planned to see what materials could be savlaged from the basement, but “it isn’t going to be much,” he said.
Like Frassetti, his losses likely won’t be covered by insurance — and he was hoping that FEMA or another agency might step in to help with the disaster.
“There was a huge amount of damage here,” Lineback said, referring to a half-mile stretch of residences that were similarly flooded and have no flood insurance. “There’s going to be a big bill for everybody.”
It’s looking likely that most of that bill will have to be borne by individual property owners.
Park County Homeland Security Director Jack Tatum said Thursday that people impacted by the flooding can contact the American Red Cross in Wyoming at 307-222-8272 to schedule an assessment.
"It may just be something as small as providing some cleaning supplies, or there might be a small amount of financial assistance available," Tatum said.
However, it’s unclear whether residents will qualify for any financial help from the U.S. government.
“... Unfortunately there are strict federal government guidelines for events to be declared a disaster and therefore be eligible for individual financial assistance. A localized rain/flooding event simply does not meet these guidelines,” said Lance Mathess, a spokesman for Park County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the Homeland Security office.
“It’s going to be impossible [to qualify for federal aid] with how isolated the event was — and I know that’s the really frustrating part for everybody,” said Tatum. “I mean, whenever it’s your home and it’s your basement, your belongings, that’s not an isolated event — that’s impacting you and I get that. But in the grand scheme of things, I guess that’s what FEMA or whoever would see that as — an isolated event.”
Tatum, who spoke with Frassetti about the damage to her home in Powell, said it’s difficult not be able to offer more assistance.
“It’s really hard to hear something like that, and ... be in my position and not be able to do something for that person,” he said. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Mathess said it’s possible that local residents could qualify for aid through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but “it is not a guarantee that residents will meet their guidelines.” He suggested submitting information at www.disasterassistance.gov/get-
He did note that residents with open wells can get their water tested by the State of Wyoming Department of Health. Testing kits are available by going to www.health.wyo.gov/publichealth/lab/water/.
Tatum and road and bridge personnel also responded to the Powell sand and sandbags immediately after Sunday’s flooding.
Tatum added that “it’s events like these that serve as a reminder to our residents that no matter where you live in Park County, you are eligible to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program.” More information about the insurance can found at www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.
For her part, Frassetti was unsure of her next steps on Wednesday. “I think part of the problem here is the Wyoming spirit; they just hitch up their pants and go, ‘OK let’s dig out the mud,’ and don’t realize that maybe their neighbor’s got $15,000 worth of damage over here,” she said with a laugh.
In contrast, Lineback recalled having 15 to 20 people stop by his home within a half-hour of Sunday’s flooding, offering to help.
While there was nothing they could do to stem the flooding, “I was grateful to have the people,” Lineback said, adding, “The people in this community are so wonderful. It’s just amazing to live here and have that kind of concern for your neighbors — they’re people I didn’t even know.”
While he said the situation “sucks,” he said he, his wife Tami and his fellow neighbors would make it through the tough situation.
“We’re Wyoming tough,” Lineback said. “We’ll be alright.”
The downpour last weekend caused a number of homes to be damaged by flooding. As a result, people began to wonder if their homeowner’s policy would cover the damage. What they’re finding is their homeowner’s policy will not cover the damage.
Gregg McDonald, agent with Farmers Insurance in Powell, said flood insurance is a separate policy with an additional premium from a program run by the federal government. Often he provides the coverage in a quote, but people usually pass on it.
“They don’t want it. They don’t want to spend the money,” McDonald said.
He said he’s had more calls about flood insurance this week than he has in the two-and-a-half years he’s been an agent with Farmers Insurance.
Because the odds of anyone in Powell experiencing flood damage are so low, the area gets a preferred rating. This means the premiums are quite low.
The damage from a flood can be very expensive, and even though it’s unlikely a homeowner will need to file a claim for it, McDonald said it’s something to consider.
“It’s the kind of thing you don’t want to buy a day too late,” he said.
Once purchased, there’s a 30-day waiting period before coverage begins.
The kind of rain the area saw last weekend is very rare, but other events that would be covered by flood insurance are also possible. McDonald recalled a situation where one man’s irrigation activities caused flood damage to his neighbor’s home. Melting snow could potentially cause flood damage.
Flood insurance is specifically for ground water flowing into a house, as opposed to controlled water flowing into a house. So, for example, damage from a burst pipe that floods a basement would be covered by a homeowner’s policy.
David Blevins, an agent with State Farm Insurance in Powell, said the reason flood insurance is a program through the federal government has to do with the fact floods damage a large area with a lot of homes. It’s not the kind of thing insurance companies are able to handle, so it goes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Blevins said in the 38 years he’s been in the insurance business, he’s never seen a downpour like what happened last weekend. The odds are pretty low it’ll happen again anytime soon.
Flood insurance “protects you against the odds turning against you,” he said.