A Story of Recovering Oklahomans After Disaster
The year 2015 was like no other in recent Oklahoma history. Beginning in March the state was impacted by tornadoes in Moore, Sand Springs, and Tulsa. These storms were not declared so no governmental assistance was offered to these disaster survivors. Later in May tornadoes struck Bridge Creek, Oklahoma City, and Bixby followed by widespread flooding pushing rivers out of their banks. These storms received a declaration providing assistance from FEMA and SBA. Then in June Tropical Storm Bill created even more flooding around the state pushing lakes, rivers, and streams out of their banks. These storms received a declaration providing assistance from FEMA and SBA. Then in July more rain caused flooding for a third time in as many months.
Overall 84% of the state had been impacted by a disaster. From January to May twenty seven counties had received over 40 inches of rain with fourteen counties receiving over 50 inches of rain. During the month of May alone Oklahoma received over 20 inches of rainfall which is four times more than the state’s average. Over 96 tornadoes had touched down within the states borders. The year ended much as it started with heavy ice storms impacting even more residents in November and December of which received no declaration.
Four long term recovery committees were set up around the state to hear all the disaster survivor cases across forty five counties for those families that had needs they could not meet on their own. Of the disasters that were declared for FEMA and SBA assistance they processed 4,596 claims. Far more are impacted than are able to file claims, especially considering those impacted where their disaster did not get a declaration. Of the 4,596 claims FEMA provided $18,200,000 in assistance. Claims are not ever equally divided, but to gain perspective on this assistance value if it is divided evenly each claimant would only have received $3,959.96. On the adjacent map you can see the states disaster impact. No time before had this much of the state been effected in the same year.
Mr. R has lived in a small town two hours just east of Oklahoma City for 92 years in the same home. He talks of the beautiful Spider Lilies he planted back in the 70’s that still bring him joy. As we walk around his yard he shares stories of his neighborhood and about the vacant homes once occupied. Some homes have even been removed leaving many grassy covered lots around him. Mr. R served as a music teacher at the local school. He has now been retired on a fixed income longer than the team of NCCC AmeriCorp volunteers that work around his home have been alive. As he holds his head in his hands he says he just cannot say enough about how grateful he is for our help.
Mr. R was impacted by the 2015 storms. His home was assessed by FEMA who noted damage to his roof and interior drywall. FEMA determined his loss to be valued at $1,119, but cited insufficient disaster damage and did not pay out. By the time Mr. R’s home was able to be assessed by the Long Term Recovery Committees member agency it was April 2107. Their report reads as follows:
The home has a roof that leaks and has interior drywall damage. Winds, rain, and possibly hail could have added in worsening the condition of the roof, and the FEMA report does mention that the roof covering and interior had pre-existing damage that were worsened by the storms. Roof size is 1,150 sq. ft. with 46 feet of ridge. The decking is soft and sagging and will need replaced along with the shingles, felt and drip edge. The roof currently has three-tab shingles, (1) 4” metal top out vent boot, and (1) 3” pvc vent boot. Living room ceiling is a drop grid 12×12 square tile, large area of mold from roof leaking. Area needs new drywall in the 25×10 ceiling area. The ceiling in the kitchen is not disaster damaged but is just falling in some areas. Homeowner used plastic cap nails to reinforce the ceiling drywall. No ceilings in the home have insulation as noted by the FEMA report. The siding, the front porch, and the foundation settling issues are deferred maintenance and do not appear to be related to 2015 storms. This project may not be suitable for volunteers due to the condition and age of the roof. One of the brick/cement supports for the front porch overhang is leaning, and it may need to be addressed before a volunteer team would get on the roof. The client does not have any family or friends that can make the repairs to the home. Client is open to volunteer labor and donated materials.
The case was finally able to be heard by the Long Term Recovery Committee on June 6, 2017. The assessment was reported and also stated was that the disaster survivor was unable to afford homeowners insurance, do to his fixed income did not qualify for the SBA loan that requires payback, and that the un-tarped roof has been leaking since the storms two years prior causing even more damage to the interior. Four Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (OKVOAD) members that were present shared the cost to hire a contractor to replace the roof and purchase drywall for volunteer installation at $1,751 each. Organizations with the ability to fund materials have limits on how much they will provide to any one disaster survivor so that the funds they have will hopefully stretch in order to offer help to everyone before the funds run out. With the organizations unable to fund all the repairs needed, valued at $8,504, getting a new roof on the home was priority.
By August 2018 the home was in line to be worked by volunteers within the next few months as a contractor had finally been able to put on a new roof. An updated assessment was needed which was reported as follows:
To make property safe, sanitary, and secure we need to replace broken windows. He can’t keep the weather out. Ceiling joists have broken causing sagging ceilings which may not handle the weight of new drywall. Rim joist have rotted out causing the floor joists to sag. Flooring is down to subfloor in places causing a trip hazard. Ceiling drywall is sagging and has fallen in some area, sub floor in kitchen and bathroom have failed probably due to floor joist separating from rotten rim joist. Windows are missing and glass broken in many. Finish flooring is water damaged.
The materials list for this work was quoted at $4,880.89. One of the OKVOAD members was able to fund an additional $2,007.76 which excluded new windows and a dumpster for the debris. Two volunteer teams were scheduled for this work on back to back Saturdays in October. One of the volunteers did their own assessment prior to the work day and determined they had church mission funds to cover the full amount needed. On their two work days these volunteers were able to install new windows around the home. An NCCC AmeriCorp team was scheduled in November to complete the interior repairs as well as paint the exterior of the home. The three volunteer teams totaling 25 volunteers that served on this project provided 936 labor hours equaling $20,077 in volunteer labor value. On November 27, 2018 Mr. R’s home was made home again.
This project is not unlike many others in long term recovery. The disaster survivors must fully depend on faith based and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to help. Volunteers are required in order to make donated dollars stretch by purchasing materials only. Mr. R received a contractor installed roof due to the excessive damage not being suitable for volunteers, but most homes receive only volunteer labor. As is the case with Ms L in southeast Oklahoma who is being blessed today by the NCCC AmeriCorp team who has moved to her home to install a new roof and then interior repairs before they move to southern Oklahoma to help yet another disaster survivor in need who has waited 42 long months hanging on to the hope we will arrive.
We believe the last to be helped is NOT the least to be helped, and so we push on Making Homes Home Again!