Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 23, 2013

Assessing the damage

Cleanup process near downtown continues

By Scott Smith and Lindsey Ziliak
Kokomo Tribune

— Bob Rozzi has seen a lot of floods in the 30 years he’s been working at his family business, Stites Dry Cleaners.

But the flood which inundated the business’ Park Avenue location couldn’t be kept out with sandbags. Monday, Rozzi was sorting out the damage and pointing to a spot on a cabinet which marked the height of floodwaters in 2003.

The mark was fully a foot-and-a-half below the new high water mark left Friday.

“I talked to Father Ted [Dudzinski, parish priest at St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick Catholic churches], and he said don’t make any decisions under duress,” Rozzi said. “For right now, I’m going to clean up, get things as best I can, and then later on, I’m going to reassess.”

Like a lot of people in the flood-prone Park Avenue area, the owners of the Stites cleaners don’t give up easily.

But after Friday’s 100-year flood, which saw the highest level of the Wildcat Creek since records started being kept in the 1950s, there will be a general reassessment.

Kokomo Fire Chief Pat O’Neill said firefighters worked around the clock, forming three boat crews to rescue and evacuate more than 100 residents.

Monday, most of the flood victims had left the Red Cross shelter at Memorial Gym as one by one, flood-hit homes were inspected and approved for the restoration of power.

City crews used a front loader to pick up sodden debris, carpet and furniture along the curbs, while others hosed mud off the streets and sidewalks. Indiana Department of Homeland Security workers went door to door, collecting data on each flood-damaged home. That information will be crucial as state and federal leaders decide whether the 2013 flood makes Kokomo and Howard County eligible for disaster aid.

Howard County EMA Director Larry Smith said it could be a while before the county finds out if it will receive money from the federal government.

In the meantime, the North Central Indiana Chapter of the American Red Cross is doing its best to make sure flood victims are comfortable.

“We’re trying to do mass care — getting food to people, the real emergency items,” said Shaina Shutt, program specialist for the local chapter.

It took at least a day for the Red Cross to do its own damage assessment. Volunteers drove through neighborhoods to document the devastation and count the number of homes impacted. They looked at how high the water reached on the outside of a home. Based on that, two homes in the community were classified as destroyed because water rose more than five feet around them, said Mitch Figert, executive director of the North Central Indiana Red Cross.

Another 36 had major destruction — or 36 to 60 inches of water. In all, about 275 houses suffered some kind of damage, Figert said.

Shutt said this chapter of the Red Cross will use those numbers to justify ordering supplies and sending caseworkers out.

“They have to know that we’re extremely affected,” she said.

Today, caseworkers will talk with the families who remain in the Red Cross shelter and with those 38 families whose homes had major damage or were destroyed by the floods. The remaining families will have a chance to speak with caseworkers in the coming days.

Figert encouraged them to be patient because Red Cross volunteers and employees are moving as quickly as they can to help people.

“The immediate needs have been met,” he said. “Now we’re looking at long-term planning.”

Coming less than 10 years after the last record flood, Friday’s inundation was another test for the community.

Well before the flood hit, city officials had started the process of creating a long-term plan for mitigating flood damage in the city, an effort Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said Monday needs to move forward.

“The way I’ve heard it explained is that the 2003 flood touched more people, but the ones impacted by this one were impacted much worse,” Goodnight said.

At the gym, Lori Long and Scott Little were hopeful of moving back into their apartment on Carter Street. Most of their belongings were stored on an upper floor, leaving just the carpet and downstairs furniture to dispose of.

“We woke up early Friday and seen it was raining. And we just watched the water rise,” Little said.

“We didn’t think it was going to flood; nobody thought it was going to flood that bad,” Long added.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita was in Kokomo Monday to assess the damage and said he thought Kokomo had the worst flooding in his district.

“This is not my first flood. When I was secretary of state my hometown of Munster flooded when the levee broke on the Calumet River,” he said. “This reminds me a lot of that.”

Rokita said the main thing is no one was hurt and he urged residents to be patient. There will be a lot of frustration over the next few weeks, he said, but fortunately only over the loss of property.

“It will take awhile, but I’m confident that everything that is reimbursable, will be reimbursed,” he said.