June flood victims still waiting for aid

Henry and Marie Boulware, near 80 and on a fixed income, must wash their clothes at a laundry because the deluge destroyed their basement washer and dryer.

Pam Luallen, like her neighbors, keeps a wary eye on the calendar as the weather cools. The water turned her furnace into a worthless hulk, and she doesn't have $5,000 to replace it, leaving her home without heat.


And Mary Jackson might not be reduced so easily to tears by such headaches - that scary zap sound when she tried using a living room outlet, for example - if her mother wasn't at a hospice dying.

No, these are not yet more woes left by Tropical Storm Isabel. These Northeast Baltimore residents are still reeling from the effects of a flash flood that swamped several East 35th Street houses June 13. Basements filled up, and in some spots, water reached over three feet on the first floor.


Three and a half months later, insurers have long since denied the claims of five homeowners. None had flood insurance.

That forced residents to turn to the city, whose poor drainage system they say has caused repeated flooding over the years. But the city has yet to tell them how much - if any - money it will pay, and much of the damage remains.

"I'm not surprised, I'm shocked," said Jackson, a Social Security benefits analyst, standing near her ruined basement bathroom yesterday. "I had so much faith in the city. I've been told that I'm naive and gullible, but I believed them."

She and Luallen, who each estimate their losses at $50,000, feel even more abandoned with all the attention being given to areas hit hard by Isabel.

"I feel bad for those people, truly," said Luallen, a pharmacy technician at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "But what do I have to do? Does my house have to float to Lake Montebello?"

The reasons for the slow pace are not clear. Steve Wright, the city Law Department's claims adjuster who is handling the aid requests, did not respond to phone messages yesterday.

A form letter from the city warned residents it could take some time. "Generally it will take at least three (3) months for our investigation to be completed," it said in bold type.

Henry Boulware said Wright told him last week that he forwarded the Boulwares' $40,000 claim to a "higher-up" in the city and that it was out of his hands. But Boulware's patience is running out. "It shouldn't take nothing that long to do," he said yesterday after taking his ailing wife to the doctor.


Help may not be too far off. Mary Pat Clarke, a former City Council president who won the Sept. 9 Democratic primary for the new 14th District, said she was told the city could make a decision on aid soon. The claims could exceed $1 million, she said, including damage to Walther Avenue homes.

But Clarke said the city has handled the situation poorly so far. "People have been forgotten. They shouldn't be forgotten. They haven't been made right," she said.

The flooding occurred suddenly the night of June 13. Torrential rain fell, and much of the water headed for the low-lying spot where 35th Street meets Hillen Road. Water rose to 10 feet in the street and poured into five homes through basement windows and up pipes.

The city, after a slow start, swooped in June 18. Officials put up residents in hotels and arranged for debris to be hauled away. Basements were scrubbed. A mold inspector visited. But since early July, residents say, they have heard little beyond Wright's promises that officials were processing their claims.

Luallen, like the others, spent several hundred dollars for a new hot-water heater. She also replaced a fence. But she cannot afford a new car, furnace, living room furniture or repairs to hardwood floors. After a 1996 flood, she went $16,000 in debt, she said, and won't do so again.

Jackson's situation is worse in some ways. She still owes $1,800 for her totaled car and now relies on rides. This week she rented a car so she could visit her gravely ill mother at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. One bright spot is the refrigerator donated by Social Security colleagues; storm water filled the old one.


"That's my life since June 13," she said, wiping away tears.

The worst damage by far is at Hazel Johnson's single-family brick house on Hillen Road. The kitchen floor collapsed and water rose to nearly four feet on her first floor. She fell through the hole and, for the first time in her life, managed to swim before someone pulled her to safety.

Of the five affected homes in that area, hers was the only one condemned; she's been living in the Calvert Street office where she runs a property management business.

But she's determined to stay upbeat. "I will not get depressed because of the fact I got life," she said. "I could've drowned."