Thursday, August 7, 2014

Flood Survivors: 'It's Like Beginning Again.'

By Patricia Billinger
Alma and her family were awoken at 3 a.m. by a call warning them to evacuate immediately because flood waters were coming. Alma, husband Guillermo, daughter Perla, son-in-law Gerardo and grand-daughters Yamileth and Yaretzi escaped to Guillermo’s sister’s home, leaving everything behind in their Longmont mobile home.

They quickly realized they needed additional help: Alma has diabetes and sleep apnea but fled without her medications and the breathing machine she uses at night; her grand-daughters have asthma; and they were a family of six joining a household already packed with eight other family members.

“There were a lot of people in my sister-in-law’s house, it was a lot of people. So, we would go to the Red Cross shelter for meals and to spend the day, and then just stay at my sister-in-law’s house to sleep,” Alma recalled.

At the shelter, Red Cross volunteer nurses also helped Alma refill her family’s medications and provided a replacement breathing machine – essential to preventing seizures caused by her sleep apnea.

Perla (L), daughters Yamileth and Yaretzi, and Alma in Alma's new rental home.
When the family was allowed to return to their trailer a week later, they found water had passed through the mobile home “up to the top.”

“Everything that we had inside the trailer was thrown out – the only thing we saved were two beds, some photos and some children’s clothes. Everything was wet.” Alma said. “One of our neighbors found a big fish on his stairs because the water passed that high. Things you wouldn’t believe – you wouldn’t believe the things that happened.”

While the Nuñez family was cleaning out the remains of their home, a Red Cross volunteer checking on the neighborhood stopped by, gave them clean-up supplies, inquired about their needs and took down their names for casework follow-up.

Later, a long-term recovery caseworker reached out to the Nuñez family and reconnected them with the Red Cross again – just in time. Guillermo had injured his hand and was unable to work in his janitorial field; while Perla had found an apartment for her family with help from FEMA, Alma had struggled to find an apartment she and Guillermo could afford.

 “All the apartments were full and there were wait lists because so many people were affected by the floods,” Alma explained. “The Red Cross gave us one month of rent, which helped me a lot because my husband couldn’t work.”

The rental assistance helped them secure a small, tidy manufactured home rental in Longmont, where they have been living since.

 Nearly one year later, Alma and Perla say they’re still fighting to get back to normal.

“Estamos batallando,no crees que no,” Alma said – “We’re battling, don’t believe we’re not.”  Work is less stable and the children don’t completely understand what happened to their “home.”

“It has affected every one of us, each one,” Alma said. “Sometimes there just aren’t words to describe it.”

“It’s like starting from the beginning again,” Perla explained. But, despite their losses and having to start again, they’re grateful for the help they’ve received and are paying it forward: they learned of an 82-year-old woman who was displaced by the floods and was moving into their mobile home park, and had planned a full day to help her move into her new home and clean it.

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