Anger grows in MD

"They call us the Seneca Creek swamp rats," said Louis Wrovlewski, who knows all too well the many ways people poke fun at his neighborhood on the east side of Baltimore County facing the Chesapeake Bay.

BY SUSAN KIM | SENECA CREEK, Md. | September 24, 2003

"She doesn't want to live here anymore."

—Ed Tutin

"They call us the Seneca Creek swamp rats," said Louis Wrovlewski, who knows all too well the many ways people poke fun at his neighborhood on the east side of Baltimore County facing the Chesapeake Bay.

But even Wrovlewski was surprised when gawkers showed up before Hurricane Isabel's eight feet of floodwater even receded out of his house.

"They came in canoes to look at our damage," he said. "Yes, one man came in a canoe and took pictures, then he went back and got his wife and kids, and brought them back to look."

When the Wrovlewskis at last got a chance to drag their ruined belongings onto their front lawn, it got even worse, said his wife, Brenda, because the gawkers were joined by people coming to check how their yachts there is a marina at the end of the road fared.

"You wouldn't believe the traffic," she said. "Here I was with my whole life drying out on my lawn, and I felt like what do you call those light shows a festival of lights?"

Then one guy rolled down his car window and asked if she was having a yard sale.

"I am a Christian person," Brenda said, "but he's lucky I didn't have a glass ashtray."

The Wrovlewskis and their neighbors on Seneca Creek Drive would have trouble holding a yard sale. Because most of them have nothing left. And they're either completely uninsured or vastly underinsured for a flood they never thought would happen.

Yes, they live on the water. But, no, they weren't expecting this.

Donald Busick has lived here for 40 years and this is the first time he's had water in his house. A 70-year-old farmer who has lived nearby all his life said he's never seen anything like this either.

They aren't swamp rats they're people and their hurting and angry, said resident Ed Tutin, only he's almost yelling. "My mother lives right there," he said, pointing to a house with a dresser, clothes, rugs, a bed and everything else drying out on the front lawn. "She'll be 72 tomorrow. A happy birthday, isn't it?

"She's totally traumatized," he said. "She doesn't want to live here anymore."

When Tutin a muscular guy who said he's formed his own militia to take care of security concerns on this street pulled out the dresser his mother bought when she got married, he cried. "My mother cries and I'm crying every time I move a piece of furniture."

Friends for years, these neighbors gathered in the middle of the street Wednesday for a rant session. Tutin is a nurse, Busick works for an HVAC company, and Wrovlewski drives a gasoline tanker truck - "I'm what's called a suicide jockey," he said.

They're all taking vacation days to clean up, they're worrying about looters, and they just plain wondering what they're going to do.

Busick wonders aloud where Seneca Creek falls on anybody's agenda: "We can send $80 billion to Iraq but I'm going to get $25,000 to replace my house? Dutch Ruppersberger [a Maryland congressman] just announced on the radio the average person is going to receive $3,500."

Seneca Creek families said they'd received notice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that they should apply for assistance.

But they can't figure out what they'll get, and Wrovlewski said they'll be in limbo until they know. "Well, first I heard we could get a loan at one percent for 75 percent of the value of our home," he said.

His parents owned the home before him, and Wrovlewski can't swing that kind of loan, he said. Now he's not sure he's eligible for it anyway.

"Because then we got a green paper that said the maximum loan would be $25,000. Then I heard on the radio, too, that we would probably receive about $3,500. What's next? Is there another lower bidder?"

Most of the houses are uninhabitable. Tutin moved his mother out and then came back to stay there himself after looters hit the neighborhood.

"When I'm gone I have to nail her door shut. The latching doesn't work because the door was soaked and the whole house shifted.

"It's a sad feeling to me to know there are no police officers who come through here. Why couldn't they provide security? Why didn't they send just one police car?"

The Wrovlewskis are members of the Piney Grove United Methodist Church, and a pastor came by to see them. "Just that acknowledgement was nice," said Brenda Wrovlewski. "Half our church congregation either lost their houses or got damage. We can't get ahold of some of them."

"What's next?" she wonders. Right now she and her husband are staying with family. But there's not enough room for their children, 17 and 7, to stay with them, she said.

"There's no place to keep the family together."

And there's no amount of money that can make it right. "I've lost things my daughter made me in kindergarten. A couple days ago I had about a hundred photos I spread all over the front lawn. All the money in the world can't replace this."

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