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Politics & Government

Your guide to recovering from Ida flooding in Wilmington and preparing for future floods

Sidney_Kellum_flood_ida_rescue_boat_wilmington_cropped.jpeg
Courtesy of Sidney Kellam's family
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Floodwaters in Wilmington earlier this month

State officials said Sept. 10 they were helping close to 40 Wilmington households with temporary housing after they were displaced in the historic flooding of the Brandywine Creek caused by remnants of Hurricane Ida. Others lost cars and furniture, or sustained damage to their homes. 

 

A range of resources is available to help residents recover and prepare for future disasters. 

The flash flooding that began in Wilmington early Sept. 2 was largely a result of heavy rain that fell upstream in southeastern Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service. The Brandywine Creek at Wilmington smashed its previous flood record that day by nearly three feet. 

Flooding is becoming more severe with climate change, since warming makes major hurricanes that intensify quickly more common and helps storms dump more rain. So as residents recover from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, they should also begin to prepare for more extreme weather in the future.

Hundreds of residents attended a disaster resource fair in Northeast Wilmington days after the flood. Some left the event dissatisfied, feeling they didn’t get enough concrete answers about housing. Public officials have promised to provide whatever resources they can to help residents recover. 

“This was a life-altering event for many Wilmington residents, and we know that they are hurting and need assistance,” said A.J. Schall, Jr., Director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), in a statement. “We are working to bring all available resources to bear including local, state, federal, volunteer, and non-profit partners, to help address immediate needs and begin long term recovery.”

Housing

If you’re unable to return to your house or apartment because of damage from this month’s flood, you can seek a voucher from the state Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) to help you pay for a hotel or motel. 

State Service Centers Director Renée Beaman says the state has given out a number of hotel vouchers—and calls for help with housing have slowed down. She says the state prioritized helping families with kids, so they could continue school with minimal interruption. 

“We had a couple of families that we recognized … were in their cars and in their vans,” Beaman said. “We were like, we've gotta get you housed and to be safe and get the children safe.”

Residents displaced by the flood and looking for shelter should call the Social Services Call Center at 302-571-4900.

Flood survivors looking for new housing can also use the Delaware Housing Search online or call 1-877-428-8844.

Food, clothing and cleaning supplies

Residents seeking flood and clothing should call the Social Services Call Center at 302-571-4900.

The Teen Warehouse, REACH Riverside and Kingswood Community Center (The WRK Group) are collecting and distributing food and other supplies to the community this week. 

 

Transportation

If your car was damaged in the flood and you’re in need of transportation, you may be able to get a free bus pass from DART. 

DART says it distributed one hundred 30-Day Unlimited Ride bus passes at the disaster recovery event and has a limited number of additional passes available over the next few days. 

To receive a 30-Day Pass, you must present a state-issued ID with an address in the area impacted by the flooding. You will have to pick up the pass in-person at DART’s Wilmington Administrative Office on Lower Beech Street. You can contact DART’s Corey Burris at (302) 576-6002. 

DHSS is also helping those displaced by the flood with transportation. To access this service, call 302-571-4900. 

The state is not currently providing assistance for replacing cars lost in the flood, and is not aware of any nongovernmental organizations doing this. 

If your organization is helping residents replace cars lost in the flood, please contact Delaware Public Media so we can update this resource guide. 

Cleanup & repairs

The City of Wilmington estimates the flooding affected as many as 275 commercial and residential property owners there. City officials said Sept. 15 that “considerable progress” had been made to restore utility service to about half of the affected properties, but there were still “quite a few” households experiencing plumbing, electric and gas issues.

The City of Wilmington is offering funding to homeowners for help with:

  • Plumbing/mechanical work for the restoration of gas service
  • Electrical inspections
  • Damage to HVAC systems, hot water heaters and electrical panels 

To access this service, homeowners should call the City’s 3-1-1 service line. 
Mayor Purzycki said in a statement Wednesday that the City is aware of homeowners struggling with the services, “but we are having problems making contact with them.”

“That is why it’s imperative homeowners now reach out to the City through the 311 system so that individual household problems can be assessed and so funding can be provided for necessary inspections and repairs,” Purzycki said. 

It’s important to dry your home and remove any water-damaged items to prevent mold. 

But cleaning up after a flood can also be dangerous. The CDC warns exposure to mold can cause asthma attacks, eye and skin irritation or allergic reactions. It can be especially dangerous for people with weakened immune systems.  Because of this, you should avoid contaminated buildings and contaminated water if you can. 

When cleaning up after a flood, the CDC advises wearing an N-95 respirator mask, goggles and protective gloves; using portable generators outside and away from your home, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning; and making sure mold cleanup is complete before reoccupying your home. More safety tips for cleaning up after a flood can be found on the CDC’s website

Both the Delaware Department of Emergency Management (DEMA) and the City of Wilmington are offering help with cleaning up flood-damaged homes and properties. 

DEMA’s new Flood Cleanup Assistance program is funded with an initial $200,000 from the Emergency Management Resilience Fund and leverages the Milford Housing Development Corporation to help with cleanup. 

Available services include:

  • Mucking
  • Removal of damaged drywall
  • Moisture control
  • Minor structural repairs 
  • Assistance with insurance deductibles for renters, homeowners and flood insurance 

Residents can apply for DEMA’s Flood Assistance Program by calling 1-844-413-0038. 

To be eligible, single households must earn less than $52,000 per year. State officials say there are higher income limits for families, based on the number of family members. Applicants must also prove they live in the area affected by the flood, which the state defines as:

  • Along the East side of Northeast Boulevard to 17th Street
  • From 17th to Bowers
  • From Bowers to E. 12th Street
  • From E. 12th Street to Pullman 
  • From Pullman to Northeast Boulevard

A map of the eligible areas is available here. 

The City of Wilmington’s toll-free crisis cleanup hotline at 1-844-965-1386 will remain open until Oct. 1. 

Volunteers through the Delaware Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (DEVOAD) and Team Rubicon may help residents who call with:

  • Cutting fallen trees
  • Removing appliances
  • Tarping roofs 
  • Mitigating mold
  • Mucking
  • Moisture control

The services available through the City hotline are free, but officials say they’re not guaranteed, as resources are limited. They do not include social services. 

The American Red Cross is also assessing damage, and has linked up with many households affected by the flooding. Theresa Young, director of the Delmarva Chapter of the American Red Cross, says the organization is now focusing on case management for those whose homes sustained major damage or were destroyed. 

“We help them navigate the system to know what their next steps are,” Young said. “In some cases we provide assistance, but it’s hard to know what that’s going to look like.”

Mental health

Experiencing disasters can affect your mental health. 

Free 24/7 counseling, coaching and support is available at the Delaware Hope Line at 833-9-HOPEDE. 

Free 24/7 crisis counseling for urgent and emergent behavioral health needs is available through the Crisis Intervention Service at 800-652-2929 (northern DE) and 800-345-6785 (southern DE). 

Four Bridge Clinics offer in-person substance use and mental health services, including screenings and referrals. 

  • DSAMH Central Office (New Castle): 302-255-1650
  • Hope Center (New Castle): 302-544-6815
  • James W. Williams State Service Center (Dover): 302-857-5060
  • Thurman Adams State Service Center (Georgetown): 302-515-3310

The American Red Cross also offers mental health and spiritual counselling and referrals. 

 Preparing for a more flood-prone future

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, finished in 2018, notes residents of urban areas face multiple climate hazards, including intense precipitation events that can lead to flooding of urban streams. 

“These physical changes may lead to large numbers of evacuated and displaced populations and damaged infrastructure,” it reads. “Sustaining communities may require significant investment and planning to provide emergency response efforts, a long-term commitment to rebuilding and adaptation, and support for relocation.”

 

Insurance

One way to insulate yourself from the financial losses that flooding can bring is to purchase insurance. 

Most homeowner and renter insurance policies do not cover the cost of damage from floods, so you may need to purchase a separate flood insurance policy. 

“Flood insurance is incredibly important, not just for those living along the coast or near a river or steam, but for everyone to consider,” said Jeff Sands, a spokesperson for DEMA. “Climate change is contributing to stronger and more frequent storms that can cause flooding in areas that have not previously flooded.”

The majority of flood insurance in the U.S. is backed by the National Flood Insurance Program, although some private companies do offer it. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can cover up to $250,000 in home damage and up to $100,000 for personal possessions. Renters can purchase flood insurance just for items such as furniture, televisions, computers and rugs—and not for the building.  

There is usually a 30-day waiting period from the date you purchase flood insurance until it goes into effect, so it’s important to buy flood insurance before a disaster happens. You can find a flood insurance provider in Delaware through the NFIP’s website. 

The price of flood insurance will vary based on FEMA’s assessment of your risk and characteristics of your home. The average premium nationally is $438 a year, according to the Delaware Department of Insurance. 

You may be required to purchase flood insurance, for example if you live within a high-risk flood area and have a federally backed mortgage. But even people living outside of high-risk zones may want to consider flood insurance; FEMA says close over 40 percent of all NFIP claims came from policyholders in lower-risk areas from 2014 to 2018. 

People who pay for flood insurance get discounts in several municipalities in Delaware, including the City of Newark, the City of New Castle and New Castle County, because these governments participate in a FEMA program known as the Community Rating System. The City of Wilmington does not participate in this program.  

Flood-proofing your home

There are several ways you can make your home more resilient to flooding without major renovations. 

  • Elevate and anchor critical utilities such as electrical panels, propane tanks, appliances and furnaces
  • Move critical utilities from the basement to the attic, if possible
  • Maintain a sump pump in your basement
  • Have a battery-operated pump in case your power goes out
  • Clear debris from gutters, drains and downspouts
  • Move furniture and valuables to the top floor of your home ahead of a predicted flood

Make sure to protect important documents from floods. You can do this by saving copies of birth certificates, passports, medical records and other key papers in a safe, dry place—and keeping originals in a watertight box. 

“Simple steps can make a huge difference,” said DEMA’s Jeff Sands. 

A guide to more intensive flood-proofing techniques is available from FEMA here

Building higher up

Another way to stay safe and reduce losses from flooding is to build out of harm's way. 

The National Flood Insurance Program requires that in high-risk flood zones the lowest floor of a residential structure, including the basement, be at or above the level of a 100-year flood. But critics say FEMA’s floodplain maps are out of date, and underestimate current and future risk from flooding. 

The City of Wilmington has an 18-inch freeboard policy, which means homes must be built a foot and a half higher than FEMA’s minimum elevation standards. 

How to volunteer or donate:

The WRK Group is accepting food and monetary donations. Needed items include water, tuna, canned soups, peanut butter, detergent, gloves, diapers, toiletries and toothpaste. Monetary donations can be made at http://reachriverside.org/donate/. Staff say all donations made to The WRK Group during this time will be used to support flood recovery efforts.

Anyone interested in helping with ongoing recovery efforts should contact the Delaware Volunteer Agencies Active in Disasters (DEVOAD). Click here to sign up with DEVOAD and be connected with a community organization that is helping with response efforts.

Want to learn more about your risk from climate change? Check out NPR Life Kit’s episode “Is Your Home At Risk From Climate Change? Here's How To Know.”

If your organization is offering resources to residents affected by the flood, please contact Delaware Public Media so we can update this resource guide. 

 

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