Americorps helping rebuild in Kings

Published 12:14 am Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nearly a year after floodwaters ravaged his home at 106 Eva St., Donald Wardley is looking forward to the day he can move in again.

Saturday, Wardley’s home and another in Kings were being repaired by 160 Americorps volunteers taking part in training exercises.

“I think they’ll be able to take care of me,” Wardley said. “I’m hoping to get back in there pretty soon.”

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His home and others in Kings were damaged last spring when the Mississippi River rose to record heights, cresting at 57.1 feet at Vicksburg, or 14.1 feet above flood stage and 0.9 foot above the Great Flood of 1927. Water only rose about 18 inches into Wardley’s house, but it still damaged the home enough that he and his wife had to move in with their son on Union Avenue.

Wardley didn’t have flood insurance because his house is a foot above the crest of the 1973 flood, he said. In 2008, water was only waist deep in his yard but never entered the house.

“I didn’t figure I’d need it,” he said.

With the help of a friend, Wardley was able to get in touch with Warren County Long Term Recovery, which partnered with Americorps to do the repairs on his house.

Wardley referred his neighbor Claude Blue to Warren County Long Term Recovery. Blue wasn’t so lucky during the flood. His home at 190 Williams St. was nearly submerged, and floodwater damaged valuables in the attic.

“I didn’t think the water would get that high,” he said.

After the flood, he moved in with his daughter on Eva Street, but he has a folding chair on a concrete slab near his Williams Street home where he sits nearly every day to watch over his house.

“With my home being paid for, it’s hard to start all over again,” he said. “It’s truly a blessing that they helped me.”

He won’t be able to move in again until his house is rewired and passes an electrical inspection, he said.

Down the block from Blue’s house, Bennie Craft said the only thing he’s rebuilding is a utility shed. The city ordered him to tear down his childhood home where his parents lived until the flood.

The back end of the house caved in and was knocked from its foundation. He’s been slowly demolishing the house for the past three weeks, and by Saturday most of the house was gone except for the roof and floor. He was salvaging lumber to build his shed to store a lawn mower.

“We’re going to save the property,” he said.

There’s no way the Kings Community will ever completely rebuild, Craft said. Now the neighborhood is mostly vacant lots dotted occasionally with mailboxes and surrounded by with ditches filled with stagnant water and trash.

“Every other year the water comes,” he said. “Every one of these lots — every last one of them — there were houses on them.”

The house had flooded seven times since 1973 Craft said, but the 2011 flood was the one that finally drove his parents from their home.

“That’s the horse that did it,” he said.

Blue said he’s surprised at the number of people, like Craft, who are tearing down their homes and not rebuilding, but he understands their reasoning.

“Everybody’s sold out and they’re tired of the floods and moving,” he said. “You never know when the water might flood.”

Americorps used the damaged homes and training grounds for new volunteers, said Wade Williams, deputy region director for construction.

“When they leave here they will have some rudimentary skills,” he said. “It’s a savings for us and makes sure that our people are prepared for a worst-case scenario.”

The 160 volunteers were divided into 14 teams and took turns working on each home, said Rich Smith, Americorps’ deputy region director for programing.

“This is a perfect merger of our training for new members and helping the community at the same time,” he said.

Applicants with Warren County Long Term Recovery are screened and evaluated before being accepted, said Will Halpin, co-chairperson of the organization. Those still in need of flood relief or looking to volunteer should call the United Way, he said.

“Our main goal is to meet unmet needs,” he said.

So far, all of the group’s projects have been in Kings, he said.