At Teresa Ernest's West Hills home, February's torrential rains left the back wall cracked, the master bedroom flooded and the foundation damaged as well.
In Whittier, Henry Eickhoff's property was "a couple of feet under water."
And at the La Crescenta house of John Gregory, "we had a landslide," which turned the hillside under the deck into a cliff, the 72-year-old retiree recalled.
On Monday, the three homeowners with a shared problem--flood damage--gathered in Glendale as the federal Small Business Administration dispensed checks for the first of what eventually may be more than 1,000 loans stemming from Southern California's wettest winter in years.
With less than a month left before the April 27 deadline for filing for the low-interest SBA loans, the agency has received more than 2,100 requests for applications, officials said. Of those, 520 have been submitted and 66 loans totaling $1.25 million have been approved.
Robert L. Belloni, who directs the disaster assistance program for 14 Western states, predicted that "$25 million to $26 million" will be loaned to homeowners, renters and businesses hurt by the floods.
While that's "relatively small" as federal disasters go, he noted, Monday's first checks were greeted as lifesavers by 14 families that came from as far away as Oxnard and Lake Hughes to get them from SBA Regional Administrator Oscar Wright.
Ranging from young couples to retirees, they were generally surprised at how easy it was to get the money they needed to set their households straight.
"You hardly find this in government," remarked George Annino, a retired restaurateur whose Agoura home was flooded when winds blew off part of the roof. "They wanted to know, 'Is there any more we can do for you?' "
Jeffrey Chierichetti said he and his family have been "living on concrete slabs" since rains inundated their Simi Valley home last month.
"The water table rose, came up through some cracks in the slab. The water came in two inches deep," recalled Chierichetti, a controller for a furniture manufacturer.
"Right in the bedroom," said his wife, Darilynn.
The rugs had to go immediately--"I don't know if you've ever smelled wet rug," Jeffrey noted--and living on concrete has had its problems. The couple's 18-month-old son, Joey, fell in the front room, hit his head and suffered a concussion. Their daughter, Kimberly, 5, fell in a trench outside, cut herself and needed "three little stitches," her mother said.
"We figure our luck's due to change," she said.
The Chierichettis got a $17,200 SBA loan, receiving the first $10,000 Monday. They are to get the rest after initial repairs are completed.
Loans to others attending the ceremony ranged from $3,500 to $76,000. They will pay the money back over periods up to 30 years, at 4% or 8% interest--the higher rate for wealthier applicants.
With their $15,000, John and Shirley Gregory plan to hire an engineer to examine the landslide that washed away a chunk of their canyon property. They had put plastic sheeting over it as a temporary measure.
The gray-haired Gregory joked that he and his wife were tempted to "run over to Vegas for a couple of days" with the money. But as a former bank loan officer, he was well aware that the SBA would demand receipts for the work and would probably inspect it.
Henry Eickhoff said he and his wife, Stacy, will use their $14,900 to "get the backhoe out of the back yard." A contractor put it there to start work to repair their extensive flood damage, including a cracked retaining wall, but was waiting until they got the money to finish the job.
During the rains, "there was a river going through our yard," said Stacy Eickhoff, 24, a mother of two.
"I was sandbagging," said Henry Eickhoff, 29, a supermarket meat manager.
"And I was at home freaking out," his wife added.
The SBA will probably wind up approving about 70% of the loan requests, according to Belloni, with most of the rejections due to the applicants' inability to repay.
Homeowners are eligible to receive up to $100,000 for damage to a dwelling and $20,000 for contents. Renters can get loans up to $20,000 for damage to contents.
Businesses can receive up to $500,000, at 4% interest, to cover not only physical damage but loss of income that can be attributed to flooding. Applications for such "economic injury disaster loans" can be filed until Nov. 25.
"Our greatest fear is many small businesses won't come in," Wright said. "They say, 'I didn't have any physical damage. Why should I?' "