Five days after a tornado blew her house down, Cindy Cain
was back in what used to be her yard, searching for anything she could
salvage from a pile of debris.
Cain is eager to get back to where she’s lived for 18 years, but her
prospects for doing seem grim. With no homeowner’s insurance, Cain has no way to pay to rebuild her house or even clear the debris from her yard.
And Tuesday, she found out there’s no guarantee she’ll get help from the federal government. She’s hoping a local church, where donations have been pouring in, will be able to come through on a promise to build her a new house.
“It’s my own fault,” said Cain, sounding exhausted. “I couldn’t afford to
pay my bills and keep up insurance on my house. I had to let mine go.”
Hundreds of residents in the small Southern Indiana town devastated by
last Friday’s deadly storms are in the same leaking boat. Local and state officials estimate at least 40 percent of Henryville residents had no insurance on their homes when two tornadoes struck Friday afternoon.
WILL IT BE ENOUGH?
Arvin Copeland, who escorted Federal Emergency Management Agency officials through the wreckage Tuesday, thinks the number of uninsured is much larger.
“We’ve been talking to dozens of people and I suspect about only 20
percent were insured,” said Copeland, who is the director of disaster and recovery services for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Copeland admits his estimate of the uninsured may be high, but he’s
fearful of underestimating the damage and destruction wrought by the
deadly tornadoes that claimed 13 lives in Indiana, with one coming in
Unless Copeland puts together a convincing set of numbers that meet a
threshold for federal assistance, the people of Henryville — and those in five counties hit hard by the storm — won’t be eligible for FEMA
That sounded stunning to Cain when she heard it, given that hundreds of people have been displaced by the storm’s damage.
But after two previous weather-related disasters in Indiana — a flood and a tornado — FEMA denied requests from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels to grant individual assistance to homeowners, renters and businesses in the affected areas. The reason: The amount of destruction wasn’t massive
“I’ve been in disaster assistance for 35 years, and I’ve never seen damage done by a storm so powerful as this,” Copeland said. “No matter what FEMA decides, there is not going to be enough money coming for these people to rebuild their lives.”
Yet Copeland said he’s doing all he can to document the damage and
convince FEMA officials of how devastating the destruction is to small
towns hit so hard by the storm.
On Tuesday, Copeland estimated about 275 homes in a five-county area were destroyed or suffered major damage, making them uninhabitable. He said FEMA usually requires the number of destroyed or uninhabitable homes to fall in the range of 400 to 500 for an area to be declared a federal disaster site.
Even if the FEMA declaration comes through, the maximum amount of
assistance to individual homeowners is $31,400. That’s for people whose
homes were destroyed or are uninhabitable. For people whose homes were
damaged but can be repaired, there’s no FEMA assistance given.
Beverly and Lloyd Evans were counting themselves lucky when FEMA
officials came by their property. Their mobile home was blown apart by
the storm, but they had insurance on it.
“A lot of people around here just can’t afford it anymore, said Beverly Evans. “I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Henryville Community Church is hoping to provide the answer. The church’s senior pastor, Rich Cheek, is working with the National Association of Christian Churches Disaster Services to develop a long-term plan to repair and build homes in Henryville.
Donations of lumber and other building material have started arriving.
Cheek said as of Tuesday, they had enough to build 20 homes. He’s hopeful that the first foundation could be laid by next week.
“We’re not waiting for the government,” Cheek said. “There’s a need here and we have the donations and the volunteers to start meeting those
It’s not only homeowners who were uninsured. A number of businesses in Henryville didn’t have insurance coverage on their properties.
Darrell Basham, a race car driver who competes on the American Race Car Association, or ARCA, circuit had no insurance on a 100-year-old building he used for storage. The cost of insurance to replace the building was just too high, said his girlfriend, Sandy Sparrow, who was going through the building’s rubble Tuesday.
“I guess we’ll probably have a really nice parking lot there,” Sparrow said.
Clark County Commissioner Les Young said Henryville faces yet another
challenge: The high cost of debris removal.
If the federal disaster declaration is granted, FEMA may opt to cover 75
percent of the cost of debris removal from public property. But it won’t
cover debris removal from most private properties, he said.
Young said he knows many Henryville residents won’t be able to afford the cost of removing the damaged trees, collapsed structures and other debris on their property.
“We’re not going to let it just sit there until summer, attracting snakes and rats,” Young said. “We’re going to find a way to get people the help they need.”
— Maureen Hayden is the Statehouse bureau chief for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org