Flood victim reconstructing a ‘blessed house’

Published 10:13 am Thursday, September 9, 2010

It has been seven weeks since Rita Ferguson was displaced from her home on State Route 93 in Ironton. The home had to be completely gutted and is still in the process of being restored. On Wednesday, Rita got a little more help from Racers in Christ.

The severe rain on July 21 caused Storms Creek, directly behind her home, to rise and flood her house, was well as many of her neighbors’.

“It lived up to its name,” Ferguson said of the creek.

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Her home flooded in the middle of the night while she slept. The water filled her basement completely and began leaking into the house. She awoke at 4 a.m.

“It was quiet because the power was off,” she said. “Creaking and gurgling is what woke me up, where water was coming up through the floor.”

There was so much water in her house, she said she couldn’t even open the doors to get out. One of her neighbors’ sons, Gary Markel, helped her escape through her living room window. They swam to the road, where the water was still waist high. She said she took refuge across the street with a neighbor.

Her dog, Snoopy, was flooded out of her fenced-in area and swam to the back porch before Rita’s neighbor rescued her.

As the sun came up, Rita began to realize the severity of the flooding. She keeps a photo album of the damage.

“I had anywhere from 16 inches to two foot of water inside the house,” Rita said, not counting the eight feet of water in her basement.” It was the most unreal thing I have ever seen. I don’t ever want to see it again.”

Seven weeks later, and she has still not been able to move back into her home of 31 years. She has been living in a camper in her son’s back yard. A friend loaned the camper to her.

“That has saved me from having to pay rent somewhere,” she said.

Her car was also ruined in the flood. Another friend loaned her a van.

“It’s been an experience,” she said. “It was just like a death. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. All I did was cry. I would see something and I would say, ‘what am I going to do? How am I going to do this?’”

Rita’s first plan of action was to seek help at the Emergency Management Agency. Mike Boster, the EMA Director, provided her with cleaning supplies, and has also put her in contact with other resources to help rebuild her home.

“They had to do a complete removal in her house, sanitize it and dry it out,” Boster said. “We’ve had two very significant rain events this past summer, just in this particular area. And it really wreaked havoc on a lot of different folks.”

Rita’s next-door neighbors have not returned either, nor do they plan to, she said. Another house down the street was completely devastated in the flood and cannot be repaired.

Rita still considers herself lucky despite all she has lost. She said she managed to save some of her personal belonging, including her mother’s 1942 Ironton High School diploma and her parent’s marriage license.

As for remodeling her home, Rita said she hopes she can be back in the next month or so. So far, she has gotten new insulation and wiring put back in.

One of the groups that have offered their help to Rita is Racers in Christ.

“It was kind of divine timing that she needed the help, and they had the support to help her,” Boster said.

Racers in Christ is a dirt track racing ministry that reaches out communities within 100 miles of Ashland, Ky.

“We used to do seven or eight outreaches a year, now we do over 80,” said Jesse Dillow, whose brother founded the ministry in the 1990s.

“This is really the racing community that made these contributions,” said Dillow. “And basically we collected it from a couple of the tracks and whoever else wanted make a contribution. We were able to get over $1000.”

The Racers in Christ’s donation went to the purchase of sheet rock for her entire house.

Rita said she has been overwhelmed by the support of her family, friends and even complete strangers.

“I have so many friends, people that I bowl with, people that I work with, that have came and helped or gave money or brought food when all these people were working,” she said.

“I feel so lucky,” Rita also said. “Someone told me, ‘The Lutheran kids cleaned the house, the Southern Baptist Convention did the de-molding, then two churches up the road donated money, and now the Racers in Christ are helping, so you are going to have a very blessed house.’ I said,” ‘Absolutely.’”

Mike Boster said that there are still people in need and also ways to help them.

“There are still folks that need assistance. It’s going to be a long road for some of the folks. They are at the end of their personal resources,” he said.

The Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization is managing a fund set up by the Long-term Disaster Recovery Committee. Boster said this non-profit committee was set up to help people with unmet needs or didn’t qualify for government assistance.

“That’s why it is so important to coordinate with groups like the Racers and other churches,” Boster said.