Some Marylanders Still Hurting from Isabel Two Years Later

September 20, 2005

While many repairs have been made from Tropical Storm Isabel two years ago, some Maryland residents have yet to fully recover.

Although Isabel flooded communities all along the mid-Atlantic when it hit two years ago today, it was nowhere near as devastating as Hurricane Katrina.

But the residents of Cedarhurst, a small community on the Shady Side peninsula about 30 miles east of Washington, say their experience is a small example of what’s to come in Louisiana and Mississippi.

A few residents of the Anne Arundel County neighborhood on the Chesapeake Bay are still living in cramped government trailers. Some continue to fight over flood insurance and argue with local officials over loans and building permits. Others have started over in new homes but are buried in debt.

“It’s been a total disaster,” Gabriel Quetel, 74, who lost the home he had lived in since 1975 and most of the possessions in it, told The Washington Post.

Since Isabel, recovery has been slow. But as the community rebuilds, it also has experienced small triumphs.

Margaret Meadows’s new house, light gray with white shutters and flowers in the yard, is not as big as the red-brick home she shared with her husband, Franklin, for more than 20 years.

Their new home suits the couple fine, she said, and after a year and a half in a rental house, they are thankful to have it.

For months after Isabel hit, she wasn’t sure they were going to be able to rebuild. Their homeowners insurance paid just $1,800, she said, and they didn’t have flood insurance. They qualified for a $100,000 construction loan and thought, “Who can build a house for $100,000?”

“We were in a real desperate situation,” she said.

Then, as word of her predicament spread, a neighbor who works as a contractor said he would build her a house even though he could have made a lot more money elsewhere, according to Meadows.

Although most of the government-supplied trailers that once dotted the lawns in Cedarhurst are gone, a few remain. Next-door neighbors Eric Mackay and Eileen Thaden live in cramped campers with their families. Both said they have been trying for months to rebuild their homes but have been caught in bureaucratic tangles that have delayed construction.

Both are part of a federal lawsuit against insurance companies, top officials in the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program. The suit alleges that the companies and officials conspired to pay Isabel victims far less than what they are entitled to. Mackay, for example, said that after a long fight, he received about $60,000 on a policy that should have paid more than $100,000.

Making matters worse, Mackay and Thaden recently received eviction letters from FEMA that said they have violated the terms of the lease on their trailers in part because they “have not diligently undertaken to obtain permanent housing accommodations.” Both are appealing the evictions, saying red tape has stalled progress on their homes.

“It’s not like we’ve been sitting here doing nothing,” Thaden said. “Our hands have been tied. If FEMA wants to come down hard on someone, they should look at the county or the state.”

Melissa Janssen, a FEMA spokeswoman, said agency officials check on residents’ progress each month. If people in trailers appeal their evictions, “they are not going to be forcibly removed,” she said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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