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Published: Sunday, 12/3/2006

June flood is still wreaking havoc in 'the forgotten land'

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Albert Gillis, 70, who is slowly rebuilding his Delmonte Drive home, slept in the tarp-covered back porch for 3 1/2 months. Albert Gillis, 70, who is slowly rebuilding his Delmonte Drive home, slept in the tarp-covered back porch for 3 1/2 months.
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This is shaping up as one memorable year for the Patton family.

It was supposed to include a trip to Disneyland.

Instead, 2006 will be remembered as the year their house and almost all their belongings were destroyed in a flood - and that they spent five months in a camper in the driveway.

The family, which just moved back into its house at 5417 Florita Rd., is one of perhaps 40 families that were forced out of their homes in the Reynolds Corners area by a flood June 21.

Water overfl owing from Haefner Ditch poured down the north end of Florita Road, shown here, and into homes in the Longwood Park neighborhood, near Dorr Street and Reynolds Road. Water overfl owing from Haefner Ditch poured down the north end of Florita Road, shown here, and into homes in the Longwood Park neighborhood, near Dorr Street and Reynolds Road.
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"You just want to feel normal again," Fred Patton said last week.

Six months after the devastating flood, the Longwood Park neighborhood near Reynolds Road and Dorr Street is still recovering, and some are feeling neglected by a city that showered attention on flooded homes on Crawford Avenue in West Toledo.

"This has been the forgotten land," said Rocleen Reihing, president of the Reynolds Corners Community Development Corp.

The collection of modest one-story ranch homes on un-improved streets with gravel drives was inundated when a 36-inch culvert behind Florita couldn't handle the flow from Haefner Ditch as the water barreled east to Lake Erie.

Margaret Gillis sits in her under-repair kitchen, reading a book as she waits for her husband, Albert, to come home from work.
He took on extra work as a security officer to help pay for materials, even though the Delmonte Drive house was insured. Margaret Gillis sits in her under-repair kitchen, reading a book as she waits for her husband, Albert, to come home from work. He took on extra work as a security officer to help pay for materials, even though the Delmonte Drive house was insured.
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Florita, Delmonte Drive, and Longwood Drive still show the marks of the flood - construction equipment and PODS storage containers.

Some houses are empty, their owners unable to afford to rebuild.

"There's a lot of paperwork, a lot of frustration, and not everyone is at a level where they can handle it," Ms. Reihing said.

Mr. Patton, 34, his wife, Melissa, 35, and their 2-year-old daughter Mya, left their home early that evening when they heard the tornado siren. They went to stay with Mr. Patton's brother in Maumee.

Later that night, "I got a call from my neighbor saying my house was under water," Mr. Patton said.

He drove back, hoping that his neighbor was exaggerating.

He wasn't.

Mr. Patton waded down Florita from Reynolds to find his Chevy Tahoe in water up to its hood.

"All you could see was the glimmering of water," he said.

The family had left standing inside the front door of the house three packed suitcases for Mya and Mrs. Patton to take to Disneyland the following day.

"I opened up that door and everything was floating," he said.

The family moved into a recreational vehicle loaned by a friend while the house was rebuilt.

"If I lived by myself, it probably wouldn't be that bad. But having a 2-year-old daughter, there's no place to run in there. It got a little monotonous," he said of the RV.

Mr. Patton estimated the damage to the house at $47,000 and contents at $50,000. The house had flood insurance for structural damage, thanks to his wife's insistence, he said.

Some others in Longwood Park didn't have insurance or are still fighting with their insurance companies.

Jodi and Terry Rump of 1717 Delmonte visit their house every couple of days but are staying in a rented house. The bare studs are visible in the house. The house has been broken into, and somebody shot out a window.

They haven't started renovation because they're still negotiating for the insurance, which was required for their mortgage. "They want to give us $20,000 and that's not enough to finish this," Mrs. Rump said.

A couple of houses away at 1703 Delmonte, Margaret and Albert Gillis are slowly restoring their residence, which had to be gutted after ankle-deep water seeped into the slab home, destroying floors, furniture, furnace, water heater, and the walls.

Mr. Gillis, 70, took on additional work as a security officer to help pay for the materials to rebuild the inside of his house, even though he had insurance.

He slept on the rear porch, protected by a blue tarpaulin, for 3 1/2 months while Mrs. Gillis, 59, stayed with her son and then her father.

Mr. Gillis said he tried to hold back the water the night of the flood.

"We put bricks, rugs, towels - everything - in front of the doors, but it finally overwhelmed everything," he said. "I fought it until my wife sat down in that chair and cried, and I knew I was whupped."

They spent the night sitting in chairs in the living room while the water slowly drained.

Mr. Gillis said he slept on a couch on the porch in the months immediately after the flood because most of the homes around him were empty, exposing the neighborhood to criminals.

Since then, families gradually have been returning, although some houses are still empty.

They hired contractors and had volunteer help removing the lower four feet of drywall and replacing it with new drywall. The interior is taking on a shiny like-new appearance, and it has insulation on the exterior walls for the first time.

So far, the walls, electricity, furnace, and water heater are in place, but cupboards and flooring are still to come, along with some painting.

Neighbors have come together to help another.

They know each other's stories.

Mr. Gillis' taking up residence on his back porch is well known in the community.

The couple have received help from their church and from neighbors, contractors, and home-improvement suppliers in an effort to finish the house before Christmas, although that seemed unlikely at the end of last week.

The community group got volunteers to help families.

On July 21, a neighborhood "Stress-Free Party" was held with donated food, hall, and disc jockey, which raised $3,000 in gift cards for the families, Mrs. Reihing said.

Lucas County received a presidential disaster declaration based on the June 21-23 storms. Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $3.5 million in grants to 2,404 households in Lucas County, $4.5 million in loans to 310 home or personal property owners, and $876,900 in loans to 26 businesses, said Matt Heyrman, a student intern working for the Lucas County Emergency Management Agency.

Much of the city's focus fell on Crawford Avenue in West Toledo, where repeated flooding caused basement walls to cave in, resulting in dramatic news coverage.

Politicians, residents, and city employees came together to build a wall of sandbags to hold back the swollen Shantee Creek.

The pictures from Longwood Park were less dramatic.

The homes, mostly built in 1954, have no basements, so even a few inches of water destroyed floors, furniture, and personal belongings. Some homes had two or more feet of water.

Robert Williams, director of the city's Department of Public Utilities, said he was in the neighborhood the night of the big flood, and saw for himself that "dozens" of homes were damaged.

He said he has assured the neighborhood that the city is being very vigilant about rain forecasts.

"We watch the radars very closely and, if we see a significant storm coming in, we dispatch pumps," he said.

Indeed, a heavy-duty pump was stationed on Florita if needed in an intense storm late last week, but Haefner Ditch stayed within its banks.

Mr. Williams said the city plans to contract with an engineering firm next year to design an enlarged underground pipe and bypass for where the ditch goes underground behind homes on Florita. He said construction should be finished in 2008.

"It'll significantly improve drainage in the area," Mr. Williams said.

Even when the ditch doesn't overflow, water collects in large standing pools in lawns, driveways, and streets in Longwood Park.

The neighborhood is "unimproved," meaning it has no curbs, gutters, sewers, sidewalks, or streetlights.

The residents would have to agree by petition to take on the cost, typically $140 to $150 per front foot.

Mr. Patton, for one, said he would be willing to consider paying for neighborhood improvements because he doesn't want to go through another experience like this year.

But he said there's been little communication from city government. And he wasn't aware the city was planning to upgrade Haefner Ditch.

"If that's what's happening, that's awesome for the neighborhood. I honestly believe it's lack of communication from the city to tell us what we can or cannot do, what our options are," Mr. Patton said.

Ms. Reihing said the city should pay for the sewer and road improvements.

City Council President Rob Ludeman, in whose district Longwood Park is located, said he has tried to help every person who has called, including getting some city trash fines rescinded.

"I think the city has responded appropriately in all different areas. When my office heard about the ticketing, I responded to that," Mr. Ludeman said. "We were hit with a 150-year storm."

He said the community could consider adding curbs, gutters, and sewers but may not want to go forward when they find out the cost.

He said the city can't afford to pay to upgrade all the unimproved streets in Toledo, which are predominantly in South and West Toledo - the former Adams and Washington townships.

Finally back in their house, the Pattons have been decorating for Christmas. They hope to resume their life, including that trip to Disneyland.

"We're going in January. This thing ain't beatin' us," Mr. Patton said.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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