After massive flooding last week damaged more than 1,100 homes and businesses in lower Bucks County, officials are trying to help people who were displaced, lost property, or now have to repair their homes.
There are a lot of them. County leaders are calling the disaster — which primarily affected Bristol township, Bristol borough, and Bensalem township — a 100-year flood.
Officials quickly pulled together a recovery center in Bristol Township’s Keystone Elementary School, featuring tables where the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, county offices, politicians, and local nonprofits could offer resources.
Hundreds of people passed through on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Brothers Antonio and Trevor Greene, 33 and 28 respectively, and Antonio’s young daughter, Isabella, were among them. They rent a house in Bristol township and live there with Antonio’s wife and other daughter, another nephew, a cat, and two rabbits. When the heavy rain hit last week, they were all on vacation in the Poconos and at first, had no idea how dire the situation was.
They returned to find the house uninhabitable.
“It was a whole pool inside the house,” Antonio said. “Couldn’t go through the front door because the front yard was all flooded … the house is destroyed.”
“It’s honestly devastating,” Trevor added — noting that when Antonio first sent pictures of the damage, he couldn’t believe it. “Literally I had to take my shoes and socks off, walk through, it was up to my knees.”
The family has been living in a hotel. Antonio, who is a real estate agent, says he already has a couple leads on new apartments but nothing is finalized yet. And while finding a permanent place to live is the first item on his family’s agenda, it’s part of a long list.
Most of their possessions — their couch, lots of electronics, food — need to be replaced. But although the Greens say they had renters’ insurance through Farmers, Antonio said when he attempted to file a claim, he was told he couldn’t get reimbursed because the flood was considered an “act of god.”
“Which is unreal,” Trevor said. “I’m like, who do you believe in?”
Their former landlord’s house, Antonio noted, is covered.
County officials are directing people who are now homeless and struggling to find new living arrangements to Bucks County Housing Link, which assists people in housing-related crises.
On Wednesday, Bucks County commissioners officially voted to put more than $1.2 million from the Bucks Emergency Rental Assistance program into the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the local chapter of the YWCA, so those organizations can expand their services to people whose Red Cross vouchers — which often pay for hotels after disasters — are running out, but who still don’t have a stable place to live.
The local chapters of the Salvation Army and United Way have also been helping to coordinate donations to people who need to replace possessions.
County officials note they’re trying to make it easy for people to report damage to their homes and property because if the costs climb high enough, they could become eligible for additional state and federal relief.
Bucks Emergency Services Director Audrey Kenny said she believes the damage is already great enough that Bucks will get some money from Pennsylvania’s small business administration loan program, which offers low-interest loans to help businesses and individuals recover after disasters.
Many people in Bucks aren’t prepared for this kind of disaster, she added, so outside help is going to be important.
“We’ve talked to everybody who has reported major damage within their homes, and of those, there were more who did not have flood insurance,” she said, adding that renters have even less protection.
Bucks spokesman James O’Malley noted, it’s still not clear if federal help will be in the offing — that bar is higher than the state one.
Mike and Alice Ksyniak said they’ll take whatever they can get.
The Bristol township couple got more than a foot of water in their basement during the flood and it backed up their plumbing, pushing raw sewage into their house. It’s drying out now, but TK notes with a shudder, it’s starting to mold, and she’s worried the bad air will exacerbate her health issues — “COPD, MD, diabetes, and a bad heart.”
The couple, aged 69 and 65, said they’ve been getting some good leads on people who can help them clean up. But they’re a little more worried about replacing things. Their freezer no longer works, and they’re worried their oil furnace and washer and dryer are on their way out, too.
“I can’t afford all that,” Mike said.
He grew up in the now-flooded house and has lived there for most of his life. He’s seen the basement take on water before, but notes, he had no idea it could ever get this bad.
“Nothing like this,” he said. “This was incredible.”
Get daily updates from WHYY News!