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VA town takes hard hit

Sandy Firman, a resident of Poquoson for seven years, has a new, although rather beat-up, boat sitting in the back yard of his house courtesy of Hurricane Isabel.

BY PJ HELLER | POQUOSON, VA | September 22, 2003

"Anybody who's retired like us can't do but so much."

—Robert Miller

Sandy Firman, a resident of Poquoson for seven years, has a new, although rather beat-up, boat sitting in the back yard of his house courtesy of Hurricane Isabel. But that barely makes up for the fact that the storm‘s floodwaters pretty much took everything else in his house.

"We lost just about everything," Firman said as friends, family and neighbors milled about in his muddy yard.

At the curb sat a large pile of water-logged furniture and other household items that could not be salvaged. A metal trailer was opened to hold what little was still usable, although Firman said he certainly didnt have enough to fill the trailer. The salvageable items also were piled up outside, in front of which someone had placed a large handwritten sign saying, "No Rubber Necks Needed. Tours $3.00."

Up and down the streets of Poquoson, a community of about 11,000 people, water-soaked household possessions sat at the curb, waiting for either the trashman to haul them away or for insurance adjusters to inspect them.

Some residents put up signs advising passersby not to take items from the pile.

"If you're reading this, move on," warned one sign. "Hands Off!"

"Bad Isabel," read another.

Whether the mounds of debris, felled trees and tree limbs had any impact on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge or other politicians who toured the stricken area on Saturday wasn't known. Virginia is one of four states declared federal disaster areas by President Bush, opening the way for federal assistance (the other states are North Carolina, Delaware and Maryland as well as the District of Columbia).

Robert Miller, 70, called Ridge's visit nothing more than a "photo op."

"They don't care nothing about me," he said of the politicians.

Miller, whose house was hit by a huge falling tree and whose two cars suffered water damage to the interior, said it would take some time before things returned to normal.

"Anybody who's retired like us can't do but so much," he said. "It's just going to take a little time."

Even though the damages will be covered by insurance, Miller worried about contractors who might raise their prices to do the work.

While Miller said he and his wife Shirley had no plans to move away from the house they have lived in for 40 years, Firman was uncertain about his plans.

Firman, who lived in the house with his wife and two children, said he did not have insurance. He is on disability income.

"I don't know," he said when asked what he planned to do. "We'll have to wait and see."

Despite it all, he remained optimistic that help would be forthcoming.

"I think everything's going to be fine," he predicted.

With his small house uninhabitable, Firman and his wife slept in their car. Their two children stayed with friends.

Miller said city building inspectors told him he and his wife could not stay in their house because of the damage but he said he intended to stay anyway.

"They told me to leave but I don't have any place to go," he said. "I plan to stay unless a policeman comes with him."

Until electrical power is restored, the Millers have been enduring cold showers. They have been going to their daughter's house, which is up the road, for hot meals.

Help could be coming soon if the Federal Emergency Management Agency, now part of Homeland Security, opens an office, as expected, in Poquoson. But the federal agency may be off to a shaky start.

"FEMA came by and asked that we give out their emergency number," said the Rev. Jim Thomas of Trinity United Methodist Church in Poquoson.

The problem, he said, was that local phone service hasn't been working since Isabel and that cellular service is spotty at best.

"We don't have cell phones out here. We don't have telephones. We don't have power. We don't have anything out here," Thomas said.

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