Oklahoma Flood Victims Work To Figure Out What Comes Next As Water Recedes

Jun 3, 2019
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Oklahoma, the muddy waters of the Arkansas River are receding after heavy rains pounded much of the state. Residents are now coming back home to take stock of the damage. Michael Zimmerman and Linda Merrill had just bought a house in Sand Springs, outside Tulsa. Merrill says they barely got any note as the floodwaters were coming. She'd never experienced anything like it before, so they just grabbed what they could and got out.

LINDA MERRILL: We took a bed, two chairs, our dogs, two suitcases of clothes.

MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN: And some dishes.

MERRILL: And some dishes. We did not have time. It came that quick. Twenty-two days we lived in this house, and we lost everything.

CORNISH: The couple sent us photos of their home with water halfway up the front door. Today, they were back at the house, lugging its soggy contents out to the curb with a little wagon.

ZIMMERMAN: It just looks like a total mess. It's got 4 feet of sheet rock taken out of it right now just in the kitchen, the living room, just like water running out of the wood. And this backwood - I don't know if that's mold or what.

CORNISH: You said that you'd only lived in the house 22 days. You just made your first payment on it. Is this the first home that you two owned together?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, we had a double-wide mobile home. And it's 40 years old. They don't last as long. So we decided we'd look and find us a house and purchase one, so we did - and got 22 days in it.

CORNISH: Linda, you said you'd never experienced flooding before. So I can imagine the two of you were not in the mindset of buying flood insurance, for example.

MERRILL: We were told we did not need insurance - flood insurance.

CORNISH: Really? Who said that?

MERRILL: Well, I have a letter from FEMA that states we do not need flood insurance because we're not in a flood zone. This was our retirement home. He's 62. He's had a stroke. I'm 55 and can't work because of my back. And now we're destroyed because we we have to start from nothing. I feel so bad for all these people, not just ourselves.

CORNISH: You said that you have nothing now. What is your situation at this moment? Are you calling insurance companies still? Are you calling FEMA? Kind of, where do you begin?

MERRILL: Well, we began with doing a lot of work ourselves.

CORNISH: Even with your back?

MERRILL: Yes. We had no help. I called every organization out there, but they would tell me there's so many people flooded, it could take weeks. Well, when you're flooded, you can't give it weeks.

CORNISH: Are you thinking about staying in Sand Springs? Are you thinking about rebuilding there or moving on?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, we can't leave our loan. I don't want to mess up my credit. So we're just going to have to stay here and rebuild. I don't want to, but there's nothing we can do. I mean, you got to, you know.

CORNISH: It's odd to hear kind of birds in the background now - right? - after this terrible natural disaster. But I realize I'm not hearing much of anything else. Is there any activity in your neighborhood?

ZIMMERMAN: Yeah. There's some volunteers next door. They're tearing his sheet rock out. I think they're supposed to come to my house next. But, like you say, seems like nothing's here.

CORNISH: So right now you haven't seen anyone from the city, from FEMA, from the state?

ZIMMERMAN: No.

CORNISH: So I'm not even sure what to ask next. You're saying no one's around to help. And it sounds like this is going to be tremendous financial strain. What is your - what's your conversations like right now? How are you guys thinking?

ZIMMERMAN: What do you think, Linda?

MERRILL: Well, I can tell you what we think. Every day, we wake up and we thank God we're alive, that we weren't caught in this flood, that we were able to get our dogs out. We just now realize that we have to start one room at a time. That's the only way. When we can afford paint, we'll afford paint. We'll stay till we can afford what we need and then do the work ourselves, I guess. That's all we have.

CORNISH: Well, Michael and Linda, I want to say thank you so much for telling us your story. I know that this feels like an impossible time. And I want you to know that we're all thinking about you and that we wish you the best.

ZIMMERMAN: Thank you very much.

MERRILL: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: That's Linda Merrill and Michael Zimmerman cleaning out their flooded home in Sandy Springs, Okla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.