Hopes Adrift : Flood Victims Pick Through What Is Left of Their Homes

Times Staff Writer

The mood has been somber in this flood-ravaged community as residents sift through the soggy remains of their homes, searching for salvageable belongings, but often finding little more than silt-coated debris.

"This is the total accumulation of 40 years," homeowner Kermit Edmunds said, gesturing toward a tangled heap of waterlogged furniture and other sodden belongings destined for the garbage truck.

"We've traveled around the world and brought back furniture from all those countries. Brought it back here--and this is it. It's not a good feeling," said Edmunds, a retired Air Force sergeant.

The houses in this west Linda neighborhood were submerged in as much as 10 feet of water for two weeks after the Yuba River, without warning, broke through an earthen levee shortly after sundown on Feb. 20. The estimated 21,000 residents of Linda and nearby Olivehurst who were driven from their homes by the flood are only now getting back into their houses.

The two communities, located about 50 miles north of Sacramento, were probably the hardest-hit towns in the state in the mid-February disaster, blamed for 13 deaths and more than $375 million in damage statewide.

Across the street from Edmunds, homeowner Lamarr Andersen, who lost both his house and his home improvement business to the flood, was ripping the remaining slabs of sheet rock from the walls inside his residence. Like the owners of 527 other homes deemed "uninhabitable" by county inspectors, Andersen was instructed by health officials to strip the inside walls and floor covering to stave off potential decay. But last week, more heavy rain passed through the Yuba County farming community, compounding the moisture problem and testing once again everybody's already-taxed morale.

"It would be awfully easy to just walk out of here, awfully easy, but I don't think I could qualify for another (home) loan. So I've got to salvage what I can--a few plates and knick-knacks. It's a long way to get set back," said a discouraged Andersen, who estimated his financial loss at about $75,000.

"If the water had been pumped out of here earlier, a lot of stuff could have been salvaged," he lamented.

Like virtually all residents of Yuba County, where the median income is the lowest in California, Andersen did not have flood insurance. And because his income is not below the poverty level, he is ineligible for government grants.

"I do get feeling pretty bad here," he continued, "but then I go next door. Those people are 80 years old. Their house is completely off its foundation. A total loss. I'm 47, and I'd like to be slowing down about now, but I can still work and that makes me feel like I'm not so bad off."

Linda resident Archie Lee Collins was able to save one car, but lost his pickup truck and all his other belongings. Amid a pile of sheetrock, broken furniture and other debris heaped in his driveway, were wooden crates holding jars filled with jams, jellies and other foods his wife had preserved during the year. All of it was contaminated by the flood.

The only items the elderly couple were able to retrieve from the flood were "clothes, some of the bedding, dishes and a few cooking utensils," said Collins, who is living with his wife in a borrowed camper parked in the VFW Hall parking lot. He too, had no flood insurance.

Despite the extensive losses, Collins, Andersen and many other victims of the flood are quick to praise the hundreds of volunteers who have helped victims cope with the disaster.

Dolores Lapp, a Salvation Army disaster services officer from Morgan Hill, said her organization has spent "thousands and thousands" of dollars helping residents with food, clothing and shelter, but said the funds are dwindling rapidly.

"For some reason donations aren't very high and we're really hurting. I have worked disaster relief for 10 years and this is the worst disaster so far." said Lapp.

The need for housing, she said, is the most difficult to fill.

"There's no place for them to stay. We've talked to a lot of families who've split up--a child in one house, another child in another area. A mother somewhere else. It's really horrible," she said.

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