Residents struggle to get lives back to normal

BY SARAH WILSON, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Two months after the remnants of Hurricane Ike caused flooding in University City, some Jewish residents are still wading through the effects of the storm’s damage.

Sydney Farber had lived in her Hafner Court apartment for 12 years, but now she has no choice but to move. She said her apartment had roughly 95 percent damage from the flooding on Sept. 14, not including the loss of her car, which is piled high with papers and belongings she is unsure if she needs. She was advised not to open the car’s doors without wearing a mask, because the car could contain possible toxic fumes.

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Tenants of apartments that were affected badly enough had a week to clear out their belongings, and whatever remained after that week would be thrown away due to mold and contamination. That is, if the floodwater did not ruin the items to begin with.

After almost two months of waiting for federal disaster aid, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on November 13 that President George W. Bush declared a major disaster for the state of Missouri, so recovery is expected to begin soon.

“I tried to salvage whatever I could between bills, medications and papers that I needed,” Farber said. “Also, I picked up any clothing that hadn’t been in the closet that didn’t have that musty smell. It was really very putrid and murky. Anything that sounds like a swamp.”

In the past 12 years, Farber said she has experienced four different floods, but this one was indeed the worst. She rented a storage room in which to put her rescued belongings until she is able to move into a new place, even though she hardly knows where anything is after having to cram everything into a small space.

She stayed at a shelter at first at the University City Centennial Commons, provided by the American Red Cross, for a week with other displaced residents, but then stayed with a member from her synagogue, and is now staying temporarily with her ex-husband. One of the biggest sacrifices, though, is that without a car, she has had trouble being as involved at her synagogue, Shaare Zedek, as she used to be, Farber said. She can only go when she gets a ride from another congregant.

In addition to her car, she lost many dishes including pots, pans and cups. All her books are ruined as well.

“I’m hoping to get another car,” Farber said. “My friends said this was my opportunity to start all over. I don’t want to start all over, but I don’t really have a choice.”

While waiting on assistance from FEMA, University City has provided assistance to displaced residents, including shelter, money for food and clothes as well as volunteer assistance for the removal of flood damage.

Sheila Schultz said the University City Fire Department went above and beyond to help the displaced residents.

“They were the ones that came to rescue us and tell us to evacuate,” Schultz said.

“They brought a bus around to take us to the fire station. They were very hospitable. I can’t complain at all, and I kvetch a lot.”

Schultz is another resident of Hafner Court Apartments who lost her car in the flood but was able to move back into her apartment. The water flooded from the back of the apartments, where the damage was the worst. Schultz lives closer to the front, which was not nearly as bad.

She said it has been difficult working with Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), though.

“I’ve been here for 17 or 18 years and was here during the floods of ’93,” Schultz said.

“MSD said this wouldn’t happen again and said piping was good after widening storm drains. Obviously, they didn’t cause the flood, but many of us feel that if they had been doing their job, the damage wouldn’t have been so extensive.”

Schultz said she appreciates all the help she has received, but that any kind of financial assistance would be of great help.

Besides losing her car, she has gone into more debt after cleaning and trying to recover certain items. She recently applied for food stamps, and because she is on disability, she is unable to work full-time.

“I didn’t lose major things, but all those little things add up,” Schultz said. “Relative to other people, though, I know that I am lucky.”