Four months after a canal break sent 6 million gallons of water surging toward Laurie Salazar’s Kennewick home, little progress has been made to make her house livable again.
Her home and two others on a cul-de-sac on 13th Avenue remain uninhabitable.
Foundations are cracked and sit over voids. Possessions that could be salvaged sit in steel storage boxes along the street. Septic systems have not been replaced, nor has a proposal to put houses on the city sewer system moved forward.
The electric service has been off since the Kennewick Irrigation District canal above the neighborhood broke on June 6, flooding the cul-de-sac to eight feet deep.
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Now winter is coming, and residents wonder if key initial work, including restoring sewage service and repairing foundations, can be done before weather warms again next spring.
Homeowners say they have been patient — until now — despite stalled progress to restore the houses most heavily damaged by the flood.
Last week, the final straw landed when the homeowners learned they might have to pay tens of thousands of dollars themselves for their home repairs.
Homeowner Selena Perry took to Facebook to vent her built-up frustration, then showed up at the KID board meeting Tuesday.
Had a small child been in my backyard when the water came through the fence, we would be talking about a loss of life.
Laurie Salazar, homeowner
Stale, musky air fills the house, she wrote. Stains mark the wall four feet high where water, mixed with sewage, flooded her son’s bedroom. The plush carpet in the highest floor of the tri-level home was caked with toxic mud as the family rushed to try to save possessions.
Her son lost all of his possessions, and her daughters lost many of theirs.
They also lost their sense of safety as they watched the water rush toward their home June 6.
Everyone has had nightmares, and Perry’s three children are receiving counseling, she said Tuesday.
She’d like the KID insurer to come to counseling and “watch my 8-year-old daughter draw a picture of her old home and say she misses her old life,” she told the KID board, her voice breaking.
Had the flood happened a few hours later, it could have been much worse, Perry said. Her son would have been asleep in the basement bedroom that quickly filled with water, and his parents would not have been awake to shut the electricity off.
The final indignity after months of waiting was the insurance repair estimate, which would put the family underwater on their mortgage. The estimate calculated that her share of restoration of the house could come to $60,000.
But at this point, their equity in the home is $40,000.
The issue is depreciation. The estimate did not cover the cost of putting in new carpets, appliances and paint, but deducted amounts for the aging and wear and tear within a typical house.
Homeowners cannot go out and buy used carpeting or ask for a four-year discount at the paint store, Perry told the KID board. She’s not asking for anything fancy, just to return to a basic, middle-class home.
I want my life back.
Laurie Salazar, homeowner
“We don’t have one dollar to spend,” said Salazar, who also attended the meeting.
For the first time, Salazar had been living in a house that was paid for, she said. But now the insurance company is indicating that she needs to pay $40,000 of the $162,000 cost of repairing her home.
The Perrys are concerned that the cost of repairing their house may come to more than its appraised value.
The third owner, Mary Eliason, who was renting out the home she owns on the cul-de-sac, would be responsible for almost $36,000 of the $153,000 in repairs needed there.
The estimates do not include the costs of replacing septic systems or providing sewage service. And Perry said some repairs were missing from the preliminary estimates, including repairing siding and damaged windows.
The insurance company is paying Eliason the rent she would be collecting on her house and for temporary housing for the other two families after hotel stays of up to six weeks.
“I want my life back,” Salazar said.
Salazar works full-time, and her time off has been consumed with the aftermath of the flood, from dealing with the insurance company and contractors to working toward reimbursement.
Her family — five people were living in the house — is submitting lists of hundreds of items damaged by the flood to KID’s insurance company. Each item has to be listed separately, along with when it was purchased and its replacement cost, including any tax and shipping. Then the depreciated cost will be figured by the insurance company.
Eliason spends so much time at the damaged house she owns, working toward getting it repaired, that she points to an outhouse sitting on the street and says, “There’s the septic system.”
KID officials said at Tuesday’s meeting that they have been meeting weekly with the insurance company, Clear Risk Solutions, but had not realized the level of frustration of the displaced families.
The KID board and staff got an insurance official on the phone to discuss the matter with Salazar and Perry during the meeting.
With the robust economy, finding construction companies available to do work, particularly specialized work like concrete foundation repair, has been difficult, according to the insurance official.
Let’s hope the communication will stay open and we can move forward.
Selena Perry, homeowner
Estimates were very rough and that they included too much depreciation, he said. Although carpets, for instance, would be depreciated, the labor to tear damaged carpet out and install new carpet should not have been depreciated.
KID officials, the insurance company and homeowners were able to work out a path forward at the meeting.
Homeowners should find the contractors they want to do their house repairs and get bids, they agreed. The bids will help the insurance company come up with final estimates.
The insurance company will work on finding a company that can perform foundation repairs. KID officials will work with the insurance company and city to make sure that the sewer system issue is resolved.
After the meeting, KID manager Chuck Freeman said it was unfortunate that both KID and the homeowners had each been talking separately to the insurance company, instead of to each other.
But it was clear that the KID board wants to make sure the lives of the homeowners and their families are put back together, he said.
“We will make it right, as allowable by law,” Freeman said. “We will push the insurance company.”
Perry was back on Facebook, posting an update after the meeting: “Extremely productive board meeting. They listened to our complaints and our concerns. And even addressed their insurance with us. Let's hope the communication will stay open and we can move forward.”