FROMBERG — As Fromberg residents worked to clear the muck and river water from their homes Thursday, a FEMA spokesperson said people should manage their expectations about federal aid.
“If you’re waiting for the federal government or somebody else to help you that help may or may not come, and I’m not sure when it will come,” FEMA spokesperson Leo Skinner said Thursday in Stillwater County. “So I always tell people, this is a tough line to tell people, ‘Take responsibility for your own disaster recovery.’”
Federal, state and local agencies can support folks, but people shouldn't wait for that to start to move forward, Skinner said.
On Thursday, Gov. Greg Gianforte requested President Joe Biden activate the FEMA Individual Assistance program meant to reimburse people whose housing was made unlivable in the unprecedented spring flooding. On the same day, teams collecting information to prove Montana’s need for the program examined property damage at the Fromberg home of Joshua and Monic Haney.
Mud from their basement covered the Haneys as they showed the assessors where the water reached. In an attempt to dry out their basement, the Haneys had turned on a large, red industrial fan. The couple grabbed it from the local high school, where the town was pooling resources and donations. Monic Haney said they’d gotten breakfast at the school that morning.
The Haneys didn’t anticipate the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River flooding their home June 13. On FEMA’s flood map, the Haneys' home, like many of the homes in Fromberg, were in the .2% chance of annual flood area, or in other words, a once in every 500 years chance of flooding.
“We have insurance,” Joshua Haney said. “We have homeowners’ insurance, everything like that, but like everybody, we were told ‘Don’t worry about flood insurance, it’s just $10,000 a year you don’t need.’”
Now, a pond remains in the couple’s backyard as a reminder of how much water swept through their home.
Water levels rose above and beyond the 100-flood year flood plain mapped by FEMA, said Sara Hartley, state hazard mitigation officer. The governor shared preliminary statistics about the flood-damaged property in his request for more federal aid. The water damaged an estimated 115 primary residences, including some of the homes the floods washed away.
Gianforte’s request for the Individual Assistance program included the Individuals and Households Program. This assistance could include funds for temporary housing, repairs of owner-occupied homes, funds for uninsured or uninsured disaster-caused expenses, such as a flooded car and money for some homeowners to repair or rebuild stronger homes.
People should look to their local communities first, Skinner, the FEMA spokesperson, said. Skinner pointed to Carbon County's Friday flood update, which listed some of the "Do's and Don'ts" for flood recovery:
- File a claim with your insurance company
- Take photos of flood damage
- Report flood damage to local officials
- Throw away wet contents such as bedding, carpeting and furniture
People may also qualify for a U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loan, Skinner said. Those loans are available to some businesses, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters.
Rebuilding homes with some flood mitigation improvements will be important for people who stay in the area, said Traci Sears, Montana’s national flood insurance program coordinator. If people don’t build with mitigation in mind, their insurance premiums might end up higher than otherwise, Sears said.
After watching floods in Montana since 2007, Sears said a strong community advocate is essential after a disaster of this magnitude. In the 2011 floods in Musselshell County, some programs included low-interest loans for people to rebuild and some funding for people to rebuild structures, but some of those funding paths can take up to a decade to get.
Helena Habitat for Humanity was in Fromberg to get pumps for people to get water out of their basements and help to power wash homes caked in dirt. Volunteer Coordinator for Habitat Alex Garrett said the group needed more volunteers.
“It’s not glorious work,” Garrett said. “Bring muck boots, gloves, but we could really use more manpower.”
Fromberg pulled together because of the floods, Monic Haney said. However, they’re still frustrated that money from FEMA may never come or take month or years to reach people. And even then, the programs don’t make people whole.
“The government needs to step up,” Joshua Haney said. “We help the government. We pay our taxes. And it’s time for us to get money back too. These hardworking people, these salt of the earth people, I would do anything I can for them. And I want our government to do anything they can for us too.”