Sunday, March 23, 1997
Victims wrestle with red tape
Frustrated families can't move home

The Cincinnati Enquirer

MANCHESTER, Ohio - Bruce and Lisa Meyer came to the high school gymnasium here Saturday seeking answers.

They and their four children have been living with Mr. Meyer's mother since the Ohio River flooded 75 percent of this town three weeks ago and forced the Meyers from their home.

Mrs. Meyer said she was one of the first people in town to apply for federal and state assistance. Yet she still hasn't received money to fix her house so they can move back.

''My kids are sleeping on couches,'' Mrs. Meyer said. ''It's real frustrating. Carpenters will donate their time to fix my house. But we don't have money to buy the materials.''

The Meyers were among more than 160 Manchester flood victims who came to a special meeting Saturday at Manchester High School to find out what they must do to receive help to rebuild their lives.

More than a dozen representatives from agencies providing assistance to flood victims spent almost two hours in the high school gym, offering information and answering questions.

Gretchen Fournier, spokeswoman for the Small Business Administration (SBA), told the Meyers that she will track their application for an SBA loan and find out its status.

Alba Harris, 47, also expressed his frustration with the red tape involved in receiving financial assistance. He's been staying with his brother since the flood and is eager to move back into his trailer, which had 10 inches of flood water.

''Why should people in this community have to wait so long for help?'' he asked the agency representatives. ''I want to move back into my house. We can't sit around waiting for three months.''

Jim Duncan, a deputy federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), apologized for the delay and talked with him privately later in the meeting.

FEMA has issued 3,249 checks totaling $6 million to Ohio victims of the flood for temporary housing and emergency housing repairs, said Rita Egan, an agency spokeswoman. There have been 8,537 applications for these funds, she said.

More than $500,000 has been distributed in Adams County so far, she said.

FEMA must inspect the houses before issuing these checks. More than 90 percent of these inspections in Ohio have been completed, said Larry Bailey, a FEMA deputy federal coordinating officer.

FEMA has a toll-free telephone line to enable people to check on the status of their grant applications. The help line is 1-800-525-0321.

The agency can cover flood victims' uninsured losses, Mr. Duncan said. Because of the scarcity of available rental property in Manchester, FEMA is offering money for people displaced from their homes to lease trailers temporarily, he said.

Of the 300 houses in Manchester damaged by the flood, 70 were destroyed. The demolition of the destroyed houses could begin this week, Mayor Randy Yates said.

Most of the businesses in the town of 3,000 residents have reopened. The Family Dollar store, which lost $255,000 in stock, is among those still closed, Mayor Yates said. His wife, Cynthia, is the store's manager.

Mr. Bailey told the residents at Saturday's meeting that people living in the flood plain should elevate their houses.

Although it's uncertain how many of the residents who lost homes will rebuild, Manchester will survive the disaster, said Mayor Yates, whose family has lived in the 206-year-old village since the early 19th century.

''Nobody wants to leave here,'' he said.

Terry Beasley, whose great-great-great-grandfather, John Beasley, was among Manchester's first settlers, also said he's optimistic about the village's future.

''We'll rebuild,'' said Mr. Beasley, who teaches industrial technology at Manchester High School and lives in West Union. ''This river town will always be here.''