Southern Illinois residents considering flood buyout option

Monday, July 11, 2011
Floodwaters are pumped from a house along Illinois Route 3 in Olive Branch, Ill. Thursday, May 5, 2011. (Laura Simon)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Two days after Easter, Clinton and Susan Pecord watched as floodwaters rose about an inch per hour.

They'd already moved most of their belongings out of their home in the old Alexander County town of Cache, Ill., about two miles from the Highway 127 and Highway 3 intersection. A few days later, they brought in a pontoon to haul out their furniture.

"We got 19 inches of water in that house," Clinton Pecord said Sunday as he shared a meal with his wife in Olive Branch, one of many Southern Illinois towns that got hit with record flooding this spring.

Residents of the small communities, including the Pecords, met July 5 in Tamms, Ill., to learn about buyouts and how they work, as well as ways of dealing with future floods.

The meeting was hosted by Alexander County, Illinois Emergency Management Agency and other state officials.

Despite the flood damages and the cost of renovations, which will keep the Pecords out of their home for at least another month, agreeing to a buyout with the state isn't an option.

"We raised our kids in this house. My husband was raised here," Susan Pecord said.

Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for IEMA, said the meeting is the first step in a long process, one that may not appeal to all Alexander County residents.

"It's a somewhat lengthy process because the community and the residents themselves have to talk and weigh the pros and cons for what they want to do," she said. "It's still so early in the whole process that, really, it wasn't a place for them to tell us if they're interested in a buyout."

However, Milton Pecord is definitely interested in a buyout. At 91, he and his wife of more than 70 years have had enough. Every home they've owned together, he said Sunday, has been affected by flooding.

"I have to just throw up my hands," he said.

As a younger man, he saw his Alexander County farmland get flooded. He sold that land in 1993. His most recent property, a home in Olive Branch, was flooded when water from the Ohio, Cache and Mississippi rivers soaked a majority of the town. Water came over the road, closing Highway 3 for nearly a week.

"When I moved up there, I didn't think I would have any water. I was wrong," Milton Pecord said. "You can't beat the river with a scoop shovel and a sandbag."

In the buyout program, the community buys a private property, acquires its title and often clears the residence. Thompson said the cleared area is often turned into green space, such as public parks. Homeowners who agree to participate can be offered up to the fair market value of their residence before the flooding began.

The purpose of the program, Thompson said, is to reduce the impact of future disasters.

"The idea is that homeowners don't experience the tragedy of having their homes and belongings repeatedly by floodwaters and the community doesn't spend money holding back the floods," she said.

Local obligation

While federal funds from FEMA are used, communities seeking to participate in the program have a financial obligation, too. The community will pay costs involving the appraisal, title search and, if necessary, a lot survey. The community will also pay closing costs, according to FEMA.

To help more flood victims, FEMA will today reopen a disaster recovery center in Cairo, Ill., at Emerson Elementary School. Carl Henderson of FEMA External Affairs in Marion, Ill., said it's not unusual for the agency to reopen a recovery center. The need in Southern Illinois is great; Henderson said around 300 applications came in for recovery assistance in Alexander County.

"With Cairo, the size it is and the amount of disaster, our federal coordinating officer felt there was still a need for FEMA to be there," Henderson said. "What often happens is there are a lot of people that come in from the county and the state level shortly after a disaster occurs and sometimes people get misled and they think 'I must be registered with FEMA.'"

To be considered for federal disaster assistance, residents must apply with FEMA even if they already provided damage information to local officials, other agencies or organizations.

The center will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Individuals are encouraged to first apply for aid by completing an application online at www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

3101 Elm St., Cairo, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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