Years of work gone following mudslide


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA (June 18, 1998) -- The Russian River in the heart of Northern California's wine country is a

picturesque, winding waterway where picnicking after a day of wine tasting

is as common as fishing for steelhead trout and coho salmon or riding Class

I or II rapids. It's also where 53-year-old Korean immigrant Hee Ran

Park-Schultz is about to lose hold of the American dream.

"When I first came here, my daughter and I survived by picking up aluminum

cans by the road. Thirteen years ago I got this great job as an inspector

for Korbel. Five years ago I bought my American dream," Park-Schultz said.

"And now it's gone." Park-Schultz, of Rio Nido, Calif., is one of 140

families who were evacuated in early February over growing concerns of

mudslides in the small communities dotting the river banks at the foot of

Mount Jackson and Black Mountain in Sonoma County near Guerneville.

Unlike many who were able to return to their homes and begin restoring

their lives, Park-Schultz's home is one of two dozen that's still behind a

cyclone fence because it's too dangerous to enter, according to Arlene

Irizary, director of Deluge Response Interfaith (DRI).

Only three of those families have been awarded Small Business

Administration loans, and Park-Schultz wasn't one of them. Most have been

disqualified on the basis they'd have difficulty repaying the loan, Irizary

said. Unfortunately, Park-Schultz still has a $75,000 mortgage to satisfy.

She's never

missed a payment, and even though she has homeowners insurance, it doesn't

cover mudslides, Irizary said. Like many in her situation, she lived above

the flood plain level and didn't have flood insurance.

"Much of what we do is try to help people complete paperwork; sometimes

appeal if they have a denial; and make short-term arrangements for

shelter," Irizary said.

Almost all response efforts in this part of California are coordinated

through Deluge Response. Faiths represented include Lutheran, United Church

of Christ, United Methodist,

Episcopal and Seventh Day Adventists. Others, such as members of the Jewish and

Buddhist communities, help with fund-raising efforts and use DRI resources

to help their own


DRI formed in 1995 after two large floods wrecked similar havoc to Russian


homes. Each succeeding year has seen flooding and mudslides batter the

homes. This year

has been particularly hard due to El Nino conditions bringing excess rain

and snow

throughout the state.

In all, 40 of California's 58 counties have been declared federal disasters

areas due

to El Nino disasters from February to April. An early estimate puts damages

at $550

million, which includes losses in agriculture and homes. "It takes years to

put together the precise dollars," said Blair Barton, public information

officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.

By the May 8 deadline, 74,500 people registered for Federal Emergency

Management Agency help. The money already disbursed statewide is

staggering: $22 million in emergency disaster housing funds, $3.3 million

in individual and family grant funds, $46.4 million in Small Business

Administration loans and $744,000 in disaster unemployment insurance,

according to Patty Roberts of FEMA.

DRI doesn't just respond after-the-fact. For the past three years, they've

worked with FEMA to elevate the homes along the river. "We're not just

patching the homes up, we're really trying to focus on helping people avoid

future damage," said Brian Plaugher, pastor of The Community Church,

United Church of Christ, in Guerneville and co-president of DRI. Plaugher

described the Home Elevation Grant Program as a "glacially slow moving

government program."

For three years, the FEMA grant has pledged $9 million to help elevate 250

homes. But just one home has been completed and only three more are in the

works, according to the Rev. David Stohlmann of Mount Olive Lutheran Church

in Sebastopol. The Sonoma County Community Foundation recently turned down

a grant request by DRIto get the needed funds to raise the homes, saying

the money was already available through the federal government.

But DRI is frustrated, Stohlmann said, because the FEMA grant is not

without strings. In order to qualify, homeowners must first pay a variety

of fees for engineer designs, septic reports, pest reports and code work,

Irizary said. Plus they need to put into escrow 10 percent of the cost to

elevate the home.

If the cost is $39,000, which is the maximum individual grant, the

homeowner must first put

$3,900 in reserve plus pay for the various fees. "We have a lot of people

who are too poor to qualify," she added. "The most vulnerable people are

falling through the cracks."

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More links on Mudslides


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