FEMA buy-out a gift for St. Nicholas woman who lost everything

FEMA buy-out a gift for St. Nicholas woman who lost everything
One of 43 residents to accept a FEMA buy-out, Bonnie Arnold had to wear a HAZMAT suit when going through her flooded South Shores home last September.

Amended Feb. 12, 2018

Bonnie Arnold said she never expected to get such a wonderful gift in such a disagreeable way.

Last September Hurricane Irma destroyed her Reed Avenue home and her business, Bonnie’s Floral Designs.

“The water was up to the windowsills,” she said. The river water, infused with sewage from a failed JEA sewage treatment plant, ebbed and flowed through the house for five days. A separate building that she used for her business was destroyed, too.

Arnold had evacuated with her mini-camper to Atlanta. When the flood waters receded, her son was able to get to the house and kick in the door.

“He called me and said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to move on. Everything is gone.’”

She was able to salvage a few things – a beloved grandmother clock, her diploma and family birth certificates. But her clothes, furniture, family antiques and everything else was soaking wet and covered in mold. She had to wear a hazardous material suit while dragging everything to the curb.

One of 43 residents to accept a FEMA buy-out, Bonnie Arnold had to wear a HAZMAT suit when going through her flooded Reed Avenue home last September.

One of 43 residents to accept a FEMA buy-out, Bonnie Arnold had to wear a HAZMAT suit when going through her flooded Reed Avenue home last September.

Losing everything she owned at age 76 was overwhelming at first. “You learn the cost of things and the value of things that are priceless,” she said. “You learn to let things go.”

She shared her grief on Facebook and help came pouring in, everything from a coffee maker to Thomasville furniture, including a four-poster bed. Everything she needed to set up housekeeping in her new place at Alexandria Condominiums a couple of miles away.

“I’ve been tested but I know I can survive,” Arnold said. “I have more confidence and more peacefulness. I’m happier than I’ve been in many years.”

But she still has a mold-invested house, built in 1922 on a flood plain. She bought it in 2004 and especially loved the wooded lot, but it routinely flooded during storms or unusual high tides.

Then another gift arrived in the form of a buy-out offer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In the wake of Irma, federal money was available to buy and demolish as many as 73 homes in the Reed Subdivision near South Shores. The program was voluntary; no one could be forced out.

Forty-three people, almost 60 percent of the neighborhood, applied for the buy-outs at pre-Irma appraised values. The process can take up to two years to complete and people can back out at any time.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer said the city has received complaints for years about nuisance flooding in that area, which often inundated streets and yards, making it difficult for people and emergency vehicles to get to the homes.

Boyer said several options had been considered over the years, including installing pumps or drainage ponds and raising the roads. But pumps and ponds are not realistic in such a low-lying area and raising the roads would only have forced more water onto private property.

The FEMA buy-outs offered a way for homeowners to get the money out of their property and start over somewhere else, Boyer said.

Once the houses are demolished, the land will be returned to a natural state. And that appeals to Arnold, the florist.

“Mother Nature wants it back and I like that. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Arnold said. “What a beautiful way to take this disaster and turn it into something precious. I don’t want to be there when they bulldoze the house, but I want to see it become wetlands again.”


By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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