by Phyllis Redman
Sandy, you disappointed me!
Sandy has come and gone, all 1000 by 1500 miles of her. I prepared for days, having experienced over three feet of indoor water last year when tropical storm Lee came through town. Given that I live on a flood plain, along Baeder Creek in Abington Township, you’d think it would be a huge relief that somehow Sandy left my house bone dry. But, actually, I’m disappointed. I was hoping the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) would finally buy me out of this sodden mess here.
A little back-story here. When I bought my house over nine years ago, I knew it was in a flood plain, but the township had recently spent millions of dollars to fix the problem. Plus, at the time, I had no idea what it would feel like to watch dirty, smelly water pouring into my home. The reasonable price enabled me to afford to buy my first home. It is a sweet little place, with some great perks: a two-car garage, two-and-a-half tiled bathrooms and lots of sun-filled windows. It seemed worth the risk.
Five years ago, PEMA and Abington Township got together and offered a buyout for 30-some houses in the flood plain. At first I wasn’t interested. I loved having my own home, my own mailbox, dragging my own trash cans to the curb each week. I’d lived in apartments forever. However, it quickly came to feel foolish to pass up the generous offer being made. I’d make $50,000, and there were only a few years left till retirement. No brainer. I’d accept the offer.
Except they wouldn’t let me because my house is a twin. Both sides had to be willing to sell, and my neighbor wasn’t. It sure didn’t seem right that my future would be determined by my neighbors, but what could I do? I did love my home, we hadn’t flooded, and, really: How do you fight City Hall?
Then two years ago, it happened: the flood. Everything downstairs was gone: washer, dryer, heater, hot water, the entire contents of the large family room (which had been my son’s apartment before he moved out). The garage door was even cracked. Then it happened again, last year. The township manager called after that one to see if I’d be interested in another buyout. There are six homes remaining in the flood plain, three because they were excluded, like mine. This time everyone signed on…except my attached neighbor. Sorry, PEMA said, you’re out. Again.
The township pleaded my case. I called councilmen, senators, state reps, lawyers, all to no avail. No, it’s certainly not fair, they all said. But basically, you’re screwed. That’s exactly what they said. I was crazed. How can this be? My neighbors have the right to refuse, but where are my rights?
At one point, someone at PEMA told me that I actually had a legal case against them, because the Robert P. Stafford Mitigation Act that pays for these buyouts was designed to protect me, and they had no right to refuse to include my house because it’s attached to another. “But don’t use my name,” he said.
So, when Hurricane Sandy threatened, I secretly rejoiced: another chance! Saturday my friend and I hauled every moveable thing upstairs to the main level of my ranch twin. I even packed a few precious items like family pictures and the manuscript for my first book, and took them to my neighbors, where I weathered the storm, peering over every so often at the creek behind my house, an innocuous little trickle that can turn so quickly into a surprisingly raging waterway.
But Sandy was quirky. My son, who lives in Cape May County and stubbornly refused to evacuate, was untouched by it all. While it poured in parts of Philadelphia, and nearby Glenside sat in darkness, there was just the slightest rain here, a few hours of strong winds and no damage whatsoever. Lights remained on, lower level dry, and my lone little tree stands stalwart on the front lawn.
So that’s why I was hoping there’d be so much damage from Sandy that this house I love would be flat-out totaled. How else will I get out? Who’d buy it? How can I even ask someone to? And lawsuits cost a lot of money. We were spared this time, but there will be a storm that gets us again, you can be sure. My nerves are shot, and my finances can’t take another hit. I was counting on you, Sandy! You let me down, big-time!
Phyllis Redman, 67, retired four years ago from the Philadelphia School District, where she taught junior and senior English at Mastbaum AVTS in Kensington. She grew up in Cheltenham Township, traveled the country with two of her three sons in the early 1970s, came back and got a degree in her mid-40s. A “spiritual seeker,” she also taught adult GED students. Now she writes, gardens, spends time with her five grandchildren and takes writing classes at Musehouse in Chestnut Hill “with wonderful teachers, Kathy Bonanno and Susan Gregory Thomas.”