Dream home now nightmare following Oregon flood

BY P.J. HELLER | PRINEVILLE, OR | June 25, 1998

PRINEVILLE, OR (June 25, 1998) -- For the past seven years, Ernie and Loretta Neuberger have been hard at

work remodeling their family home in Prineville, Oregon.

Over the years, they have added a master bedroom, a bathroom, a small

office, new carpeting, exterior siding, attractive landscaping and all the

things that help to make a house a home. To save on the remodeling costs,

the Neubergers did a majority of the work themselves.

"It was a beautiful home," Loretta Neuberger said wistfully.

"They had gotten it to a point where it was home," agreed family friend

Kathy Larsen.

Today, the Neubergers and their two teen-age sons are living with the

Larsens, their home turned into a shambles by a devastating flood which hit

the rural Central Oregon community in late May.

For the Neubergers, their dream home has become a nightmare, mired they say

in city, county and federal bureaucracy. More than three weeks after the

Ochoco Creek spilled its banks and sent 15 inches of water gushing through

their house, the family still doesn't know if they will ever be allowed to

move back into the residence.

"We have been experiencing extreme frustration over the way the federal

(relief agencies) have been dealing with the situation," Larsen said.

"People who are the actual victims of this have really been getting such a

runaround from all the supposed relief efforts. They're getting

contradicting statements, being told one thing and two days later being

told something else."

Larsen faulted the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), city

inspectors and insurance inspectors, but had nothing but praise for

faith-based response efforts.

She said one day people are being told to go ahead and rebuild their homes.

Days later, she said, they're being told that their homes may be condemned.

Then they are advised to continue to rebuild, only to be later told that

they won't be allowed to rebuild.

"I know they (officials) are probably really attempting to help here but it

seems like nobody knows what's going on," she complained. "It's been a real

exercise in frustration for them. They're really on hold. It's been three

weeks and they're still homeless."

In an effort to address that situation, the Prineville City Council met

with relief agencies on Tuesday (June 23). An estimated 75 to 100 people

packed the meeting chambers, many voicing their frustration about the

relief efforts.

"I think there was a lot of confusion that was cleared up last night," Todd

Murphy, a FEMA spokesman, said one day after the meeting. "I think people

walked away with much less confusion than (they had) maybe a week before.

I think a lot of people got a lot of answers to questions."

Loretta Neuberger, who attended the meeting at City Hall, agreed that some

questions had been answered but that others still remained.

Federal disaster funds were approved June 12 to assist residents,

businesses and communities in Crook County recover from the effects of the

flood. Applications for aid are generally due within 60 days from the June

12 date.

Murphy said that by the end of the day June 23, FEMA had received 244

applications for aid and that its housing assistance program had provided

$151,136. The Small Business Administration so far has approved $105,000 in

low-interest loans. Another $22,000 has been issued from state-run grant

programs, he reported.

The city, meantime, was looking at a buyout program which would allow it to

purchase properties damaged by the flood. Murphy estimated that between

$200,000 and $500,000 might be available for that program.

For the Neubergers, the decision to sell or stay will not be an easy one.

"We have to make some decisions, whether to fix it or if it's more

advantageous to tear it down and start over," Loretta Neuberger said.

"Financially, tearing it down may be most advisable way to do it."

The couple had enough flood insurance to cover the cost of their mortgage.

The contents of the home were not insured. Friends, however, managed to

rescue some of the furniture from the home and place other pieces above the

rising water.

"It was devastating to sit there and watch the water rise," Loretta

Neuberger says. When the Neubergers were forced from their home by the

flood -- Kathy Larsen, a secretary at Prineville Community Church, her

husband Lester and their two teen-age sons didn't hesitate to offer their

hospitality to their fellow church members and friends.

"We didn't even give it a thought...and we haven't even given it a thought

since," she said.

Some 70 to 80 other people who have been unable to return to their homes

since the flood have found temporary shelter, primarily with friends and

relatives, Police Chief Jim Soules reported. It is not clear how many of

those residents will be allowed to reoccupy their homes. People living in

mobile homes which were flooded simply abandoned them "like discarded tin

cans," according to one resident.

Meantime, faith-based organizations in and out of the community have been

involved in relief efforts. The Vineyard Church in Bend, located 35 miles

from Prineville, offered to coordinate some of the relief efforts. Through

its Greater Love Ministries, an outreach group to help people in need,

members helped arrange for such things as needs assessments and surveys and

linking those offering help with those needing help.

Dusty Flegel, senior pastor at the Eastside Church (a Foursquare

fellowship) in Prineville and head of the local ministerial association,

said the outside help was "a real blessing."

He said it gave religious leaders in Prineville an opportunity to minister

to their congregants impacted by the flood and in some cases to deal with

flooding in their own churches.

Larsen described the Greater Love Ministries efforts as "outstanding."

"They've been down here volunteering to help the cleanup effort and trying

to do whatever they could as far as assisting people to go to the different

agencies," she said.

Local churches have offered child care during the day, served food to

volunteers on work days and provided physical labor to aid in the cleanup

efforts, Flegel reported.

"It's a pretty concerted effort," he said, adding, "I hope it doesn't die


Loretta Neuberger said that despite government efforts to assist flood

victims, it was the church that played a bigger part in helping.

"It was church that stabilized us," she said. "Government services have

their place [in relief efforts], but the church is a bigger part of it."

"One thing that I really was impressed with was the concern of the

community immediately following the flood," she said. "It was just such an

outpouring of response. I really saw a lot of the people in the church

banding together. There was a lot of unity. There was a lot of real concern

and real passion. I wish that would continue. I'm sure it is.

"It's probably going to have a trickle down effect, because even just

having the family staying here has been a blessing to us in so many ways,"

she added. "We're seeing it as God has a bigger plan and purpose in this

way beyond our understanding, I'm sure. I know He's probably got a solution

for it, too. We're just waiting for it."

Posted June 25, 1998

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