In April, more than a foot of water filled Donald and Katie Gregg’s Holiday Hills riverfront home after torrential rains pounded McHenry County.
All of their floors and portions of their walls still need to be ripped up to remove mold. Any furniture that touched floodwater will need to be cleaned or thrown out. Cleaning and repair are expected to cost $400,000, Donald Gregg said, and the 76- and 74-year-olds will be living in their motor home for at least six months while their house is torn apart.
“It was horrible,” he said. “We’ve lived here for over 45 years, and we’ve never had any water like that.”
The county was granted a federal disaster declaration for the damage wrought by the April storms, when several days of heavy rain caused local rivers to reach roughly three feet above flood stage.
The Greggs are among 162 applicants who were approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding in the county. A total of $341,614 has been allocated to the county as of Wednesday; the deadline to apply is this coming Wednesday.
As of Friday, there were 123 FEMA applications awaiting approval or that had been denied, causing headaches for many residents.
Meghan and David Roggenbuck had three pumps running to keep water from reaching more than a foot high in their basement on La Fox River Drive in Algonquin. Their backyard had water up to the house.
“We were joking around on Facebook with our friends; we were like, ‘This is the view from the SS Roggenbuck!’” said Meghan Roggenbuck, posting photos to the social media site from her bedroom window. “It literally felt like we were on a boat.”
FEMA representatives came to their home, but the couple were denied assistance.
“[FEMA] came by and made all kinds of promises, and there was zero,” she said. “At the time the guy was like, ‘Oh yeah, I can see all this damage. I’m sure you’re going to get some grant money.’ … Sure enough, they sent a letter saying your damages aren’t worth enough.”
The Roggenbucks estimate damage is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“Just our utility bills for that three weeks were probably over $1,000,” David Roggenbuck said.
The Roggenbucks said the lack of FEMA assistance wasn’t a huge concern because their mortgage requires them to have flood insurance, which they anticipated would take care of part of the bill as it had done after a flood in 2007.
But the insurance company told them their damage wasn’t bad enough to get reimbursed, and they were denied financial assistance again. Meghan Roggenbuck said the company told them the damage didn’t match their deductible.
“We pay $2,200 a year in flood insurance, and they don’t want to pay us for our flood,” she said.
FEMA spokesman Dan Martinez said there could be several reasons why an application is denied, such as insufficient damage to the home, flood insurance that will cover the damage or if the house is a vacation home.
Martinez said it’s important for applicants to inform FEMA of whether their insurance has denied a claim or more damage is discovered.
“Even if they get a denial letter, after all the information has been reviewed and submitted and taken into account, you still get two appeals,” Martinez said. “It’s got to be an ongoing two-way communication between the applicant and FEMA.”
There’s a third group of flood victims – those who do not apply for FEMA assistance. For a variety of reasons, they decide to take on the financial burden themselves.
Nicole Wright had 12 pumps running to keep the Fox River from engulfing her home in unincorporated McHenry, but she said her family could afford to pay for the damage. David and Marty Jones live in the same neighborhood and had chest-high water surrounding their house. The couple did not apply for aid to avoid an increase for flood insurance costs.
Chris Allen lives on West Riverside Drive in unincorporated McHenry and said he and his neighbors worked together to prevent floodwaters from entering each other’s homes. They go house to house, sharing pumps and sandbagging to keep water levels down.
“We fight not to even use [FEMA] just due to the headaches,” Allen said. “Who wants the mold? Who wants the garbage? As a street effort, we keep the water out, and we save each other.”