Region VII: Road to Rebuilding

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The following links contain ideas and tips on mitigating your home or business from the affects of future disasters.







Personal Stories of Rebuilding

Rising Above the Rain: One Family’s Decision to Elevate Saves Heartache Again and Again

In June of 2003, Chuck and Beth Welsch’s Monticello, Iowa home lay in shambles. Several weeks of heavy rain had swelled the normally tranquil Maquoketa River out of its banks and pushed several feet of water into their three-bedroom house. The volume and force of the water shifted the house, collapsed the basement walls, and left it unlivable.

“We had a pretty strong amount of water coming in from one direction, shifting, and coming in from around the back,” Beth Welsch recalled. “It was just more than the foundation could take.”

After days and weeks of cleaning up, the time came for the family to make the difficult decision of whether to rebuild and where.

“The house was built in 1972 by my dad so it has a lot of sentimental value,” Welsch said. “We liked our location, so we went ahead with rebuilding.”

But the family decided there would be changes. What they didn’t know at the time was that those changes would end up paying huge dividends down the road.

The family used a U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loan to start the process. They had the foundation and basement filled in and moved the house, complete with a newly poured concrete basement, a little further up a small hill on their property. They raised the height of their basement by 2 feet, forcing their first floor higher as well.

“When we talked about pouring a new foundation, we went with thick walls and Steve Ludwig, president of the company we used, asked us if we wanted to sit a few feet higher,” Welsch explained.

Looking back, Steve Ludwig, president of Worthington-based Greiner Construction, said the higher basement just made sense.

“It seemed like a good idea. It just set the first floor a little higher in case there was ever another situation like this again,” Welsch said.

Turns out, there was – twice.

In 2008, when much of Iowa was soaked with record amounts of rain, the Maquoketa left its banks again. This time, the Welsch home was left high and dry.

“It was like a little island,” Welsch said.

Welsch said if the house had been rebuilt in its original location at the same height, water would have ruined the basement and first floor.

And just two years later, in July of 2010, following the collapse of an upstream dam on Lake Delhi, the swirling water of the Maquoketa came racing toward them again.

“It was a shock to even think that water could actually be there again,” recalled Welsch. “We watched the water come up. At that point there is not a lot you can do. We were putting a marker down and watching the grass go away and the grass go away and the next thing you know you are using a boat to go back and forth from the house.”

Inside the house, water had filled the entire basement and crept up the stairs to the first floor as the river crested at the highest level the couple had ever seen. Amazingly, Welsch said the first floor was dry.

“We went in and the water was just lapping into the kitchen. It wouldn’t have taken another half-inch or two to cause significant damage. It is amazing to think what raising the house two feet did for us,” Welsch said.

According to estimates by the National Flood Insurance Program, the Welsch’s decision to elevate their home could potentially have saved them $52,000 in damage. Research shows that two feet of water can cause upwards of $26,000. The family escaped major first-floor damage in two separate events.

“This is a perfect, real-life example of how mitigation works,” said Beth Freeman, Regional Administrator of FEMA’s Region 7 Office in Kansas City, Mo. “It shows not only huge personal savings to the homeowner, but on a larger scale, it reduces the recovery burden on local governments and taxpayers. We’re not seeing money repeatedly poured into the same property flood after flood.”

While the Welsch’s reaped the benefits of a major mitigation technique, there are other low-cost efforts that can prove just as successful.

Bob Bissell, director of FEMA’s Mitigation Division in Region 7 says there are dozens of relatively inexpensive ways citizens can mitigate against future damage from all disasters, whether repairing, rebuilding, or building new.

“Raising electrical outlets, furnaces, or air conditioning units can reduce future damage, and simple steps like adding weather-stripping or cleaning out your gutters and downspouts can make your home more disaster-resistant,” Bissell said.

The Welsches plan to take some of those steps too in order to add an extra layer of protection. Their outdoor air conditioning unit will be on a 2-foot pedestal and the furnace downstairs will be elevated.

“If you have the means to (elevate), do it, absolutely,” Welsch recommends. “If we had not raised the basement we would be, I’m ninety-nine percent sure, just walking away.”

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Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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