One for the record books Cleaning up begins the flood aftermath

Published 12:04 am Sunday, June 19, 2011

Claude Blue has lived in the same house on Williams Street for 59 years.

Last week, he went home for the first time in six weeks and opened the door to see where 14 feet of floodwater had risen and fallen, dumping his belongings and covering them in mud and silt.

He started cleaning up the house and then said adamently, “I’m staying.”

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Compared with some of his neighbors in Kings, Blue was lucky. Seven homes on Williams Street were floated off their cinder-block foundations by the flood. Blue’s house, which sits on a concrete slab, stayed put.

One street over, on Ford Road, Renia Miles also is staying.

“The house is paid for,” she said. “I’m a single parent, and I can’t afford to make another (house) payment.”

Blue’s and Miles’ situations are similar to a lot of residents living in areas classified as special flood hazard areas — areas close to the Mississippi River in northern and southern Vicksburg that are considered to be in the 1 percent, or 100-year, flood zone.

Many other people are in the same situation as they return home to their flood-damaged homes and face the possibility they might have to leave.

“The majority of the homes that sustained flood damage were in the special flood hazard areas,” said Victor Gray-Lewis, Vicksburg’s director of building and inspections.

And Williams and Hutson streets in Kings are in the center of the city’s northern special flood hazard area, he said. He said homeowners can call the city inspection department to determine if they are in a flood hazard area.

Homes in the flood hazard area, he said, will need a damage assessment inspection before owners are given city permits to rebuild. Any construction will have to follow the regulations outlined in the city’s floodplain ordinance.

Homeowners living outside the flood hazard zone who had water in their homes do not need an inspection to get a permit, he said.

The amount of damage to a house is assessed by using the building’s appraised value from the county tax assessor and standard construction industry costs to repair or replace items.

If a home’s damage is assessed at 50 percent or more of its market value, which is called substantial damage, Gray-Lewis said, the homeowner can move the house outside the flood hazard area, raise it to the base flood elevation plus 2 feet, or tear it down.

Elevating his slab house, of course, is not an option for Blue.

“You can’t lift it,” he said.

Neither is tearing it down.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go,” he added.

But if Blue’s repairs don’t follow the city’s regulations, he will not be able to get flood insurance or apply for other benefits offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency if another flood inundates his house.

“I hope I can get a loan to help me raise up the house,” she said. She also said she’ll need financial help to do it.

On Railroad Alley, Darren Jordan said he’s going to rebuild his house.

He pointed to a nearby mobile home.

“That’s my auntie’s home,” he said. “She’s not coming back. There are a lot of people around here who aren’t coming back.”

As they work on their homes, people like Blue, Miles and Jordan are waiting for city officials to come and inspect their homes.

“Right now, we’re going out and inspecting buildings,” Gray-Lewis said. “We are doing inspections by appointment. We’re asking people to clean out their homes and open their windows and doors to air out the buildings.

“It helps dry out the house and helps prevent mold,” he said. “It makes it safer not just for the inspectors, but for anyone who goes into the house.”

He also said homeowners who had water in their homes should have the electric wiring inspected by a licensed electrician, and gas lines inspected by a licensed plumber as a safety measure.

As of Thursday, building inspectors had inspected 27 homes. Five had substantial damage. Damage on two of those homes, Gray-Lewis said, was assessed at about 151 percent, or more than the home’s value.

Another person awaiting a visit from the city is James Winters, whose split-level house on Brown’s Alley was surrounded by about 10 feet of water, has had enough of floods. He’s getting out.

“I’m going to take a buyout,” he said.

City officials are considering a possible buyout program, but no action has been taken.

“There comes a time when you just get too old to keep rebuilding,” Winters said. “I’m 60. I don’t want to be fighting it any more.”