Letter Re: 1 Year Followup on Colorado Flood Experience

I was displaced from Jamestown, Colorado, in the 2013 flood, and was evacuated on a Blackhawk helicopter in the second biggest airlift after Katrina. I live in a town of 300 souls in the mountains, where the flood wiped out 20% of the homes.

The most valuable preparation I was able to use was a laminated emergency checklist. The checklist was for a fire, but it served well for the flood. When the helicopters are overhead and you’re freaking out with phones down, it’s important to know to turn the gas tank off, which elderly neighbors and pets need help, and what to do next is better than utter panic. Having a reciprocal agreement with someone down on the plains for a disaster was great; we got to the airport, registered with FEMA, and in 15 minutes were in a friend’s home.

A few folks stayed in town and did okay, depending upon their geography and preparations. My geography and medical needs didn’t permit it. We probably could have withstood a fire, assuming no structure damage. Fires burn out in a day or two and leave roads mostly intact. The road system was down, and the National Guard let everyone know that fact, which made the decision to evacuate sensible.

We were displaced for 10 months. During the diaspora, I occupied myself with volunteerism to rebuild the town, and it helped a lot. Now I’m home and on rebuilding groups, and there’s another year of recovery in terms of roads, waterways, homes and community.

Now I’ll move on to talk about FEMA, the bugbear of sites like SurvivalBlog. My review of FEMA is mixed. If I could go back and do it over, I would have not registered with them. If you have a decent job, paying $50K/yr or more, you’d be better off walking away from them. They provided everyone with a rent and deposit payment, on an incident basis. Anyone who registered got $1600.

For folks making less money, they provided a lot of true help to real citizens who got some value from their taxes for a change. Just because your house isn’t there, doesn’t mean you don’t still have a mortgage. The banks were wretched, as were the insurance companies if you still had a house but couldn’t occupy it and wanted fire insurance; there were many denials. FEMA did some good things.

The problem I had with FEMA is that I was unaware that the cash was a one-time payment given to everyone that was in the disaster. I filled out a lot of forms for chump change and had an expectation that my rental expenses might be covered. Oh well. For the less well-off, FEMA paid rent for many months and was pretty good.

FEMA is a road show. They come into disasters and their site reps make some great promises that aren’t delivered on, and they don’t explain the implications of your choices. The Small Business Administration pushes loans, at good rates, but on folks that were barely qualified to repay, and the SBA doesn’t tolerate defaults. Recently, FEMA wants audits and repayment of some money disbursed from some folks. Fortunately, I’m not among them, at least not yet, to the best of my knowledge.

The most odious behavior from FEMA was to require photos of the interior of the house. I had to fib and tell them I didn’t have a basement (where my storage area is), but a couple preppers got their supplies photographed.

The most odious behavior from SBA was to enter my property, which was fenced and had fresh no trespassing signs on it, and leave business cards. Okay. I could make a complaint to my sheriff, but I was not up for fighting a 900 pound gorilla.

The outpouring of generosity from local United Way, Red Cross, and Salvation Army was incredible. The Mennonites and Baptists deserve a special shout-out for the cleaning and carpentry they provided the town. Our local Bible-based church also gained a lot of popularity because of the support and dinners they provided. SurvivalBlog deserves credit for helping me be as prepared as I was, which was far from a high level, but in comparison to some, I was way ahead of the curve. If I have a piece of advice at this point, it’s laminate a formal disaster plan. – R.