A mass of sludge, snakes and even dead fish greeted the contractors who renovated the apartments and homes owned by Angie Baldwin following the maelstrom known as Tropical Storm Michael.
The estimated $1.3 million damage to her properties — all located in Danville — meant the apartment complexes needed plumbing work, new dryers in the laundromat and overall renovation. On top of that, her tenants had to replace mud-caked clothing and electronics as well as the food found plastered atop sopping wet carpet.
“My tenants pretty much lost everything,” she said. “A lot of them had to move.”
Some tenants chased away by the unsanitary conditions left in the flood’s wake found temporary housing from sympathetic homeowners or realtors.
“Other property managers helped them find housing,” she said. “A lot of their family members also came to pick them up.”
Though Michael racked up $8.7 million in public property damage to Danville’s roads, parks and utilities, the extent of private property damage caused by the storm remains unknown. Finding a financial estimate of the damage to the 834 homes and apartments surveyed in the aftermath by city inspectors would mean culling information from a handful of government databases as well as the multiple insurance companies contracted by the city’s residents.
City officials did begin a preliminary assessment of residential and commercial damage soon after the storm hit, but that work ground to a halt soon after it became apparent the area would not meet the threshold for the financial help the Federal Emergency Management Agency gives to private individuals.
That financial help, known as individual assistance, can pay for temporary housing, repairs, replacing personal property and even building permanent housing. And that’s why inspectors from the Community and Development Department examined the cosmetic (outside) damage to nearly 1,000 homes. Because only cosmetic damage was surveyed, there are no records to indicate the amount of damage the storm wreaked inside area homes.
When Danville failed to meet the individual assistance threshold and no one received direct civilian aid from FEMA, that meant the only options left were to obtain U.S. Small Business Administration loans or to look to private insurance companies, Danville city spokesman Arnold Hendrix said.
The SBA is a federal agency that makes low-interest federal loans available to residents and business owners who have been hit by natural disasters. Data acquired from the agency shows after Michael, 34 home and business owners from Danville were approved for loans for a total of $1.365 million. There were 47 loans approved for home and business owners in Pittsylvania County for a total of $1.44 million.
It currently is unknown how many SBA loan applications came from Dan River Region simply because the agency has yet to cull that information from its data. Still, applicants like Joshua Willis, who lost heirlooms and furniture in the storm, were rejected.
“I don’t know exactly what disqualified us, but we got disqualified for a loan,” said Willis, who has a home on West Hampton Avenue.
More than 6 feet of water pooled in his basement, shifting furniture, family heirlooms and a 7-foot wide solid oak work table, picked up and flipped over by the force of the current running through the house. The muddy water also destroyed such items as Christmas decorations, a deep freezer and a furnace. The current also swept away a water heater, snapping the copper wiring that connected the hoses to the wall.
Outside, raging waters buckled the door to Willis’ garage, something which still hasn’t been fixed.
“It’s been almost a year and I can’t afford another grand to put in a garage door,” he said.
Willis said he received no federal financial assistance nor any help from his insurance company, because his policy did not cover flooding. Instead, he paid out of pocket for most repairs.
In the month following the storm, Willis lived either with family or at hotels while repairing his home. He replaced plumbing and furniture and removed the dirt and debris that accumulated inside of his basement. When interviewed immediately after the storm last year, he cited an overall estimated repair cost of $17,000.
“All in it’s probably close to that figure, and it’s still not done” he said. “We took out loans, used credit cards, did the little things we could to put it back together.”
The recovery process also is ongoing for Baldwin, who witnessed a multi-step process to transform her apartments and rental homes into livable spaces again. Trash pumps siphoned muddy water and small debris out of the apartments, to be followed by squeegees and shovels to haul to dumpsters the dirt, sludge and larger debris the pumps missed. They hit the leftover mud and dirt with a power washer filled with an antimicrobial agent. They then dried out each individual apartment using dehumidifiers and fans.
Tonya Fullwinder, who rented a home on Arnett Boulevard from Baldwin when the storm hit, struggled to find financial support when flooding chased her out.
“With renter’s insurance, they didn’t help with the flood,” she said. “We probably had about $5,000 or more worth of property lost in that storm.”
Flooding completely destroyed the single floor, three-bedroom home Fullwinder rented. Water filled an external basement and seeped up into the house. She lost living room furniture, her daughter’s bedroom set and most of their clothing. On the list of lost property, perhaps it was the family photo albums that hit her the hardest.
“The memories are something you can never get back,” she said.
Fullwinder left the house before the cleanup and repair process had begun, living with her parents until she found a new home, thanks to a family friend.
“Ask for blessings, because angels are all around,” she said of her new home.
Avent is a reporter with the Danville Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 797-7983.