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‘What’s the holdup?’ A month after flooding, some East St. Louis residents are still displaced

A worker with a light blue vest dumps debris from a blue wheelbarrow near large trucks and tractors.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
East St. Louis city employees were helped by volunteers with Christian Aid Ministries and other organizations in removing and hauling away flood damaged materials and household items from the neighborhood on Terrace Drive and Mary Avenue.

Roughly a month after record rainfall hit the St. Louis metropolitan area and southwest Illinois, some East St. Louis residents wonder when they can return home or if they’ll even have a home to which they can return.

Denise Smith and her family, which includes her 2-year-old daughter, are staying in a family member’s one-bedroom apartment. Smith resides on Terrace Drive, which was the hardest-hit area in East St. Louis during the flood. Water didn’t recede in the neighborhood until four days after flooding began on July 26.

Smith lost her car in the flood. She said she’s paying about $40 day to take an Uber to work.

“I wasn’t a homeowner,” Smith said. “I was renting, and my landlord said that it’s mold and stuff under the floor, so basically the home isn’t livable anymore. That’s what I was told. It’s a lot of us still displaced and a lot of us trying to see what’s going on and not getting any word from anyone as well.”

Last month,up to 12 inches of rain hit the St. Louis region, causing severe flash flooding. Since then, a disaster declaration was made on the city, county and state levels, which allowedEast St. Louis to open a temporary shelter and a multi-agency resource center to assist flood victims.

On Monday, city officials said over 300 homes were damaged due to the flood and thatFEMA is nearing the completion of assessments to see if St. Clair County meets the $9 million threshold for declaring a federal distaster. On Wednesday, the city will host a town hall meeting to address residents’ concerns about the flooding.

Earlier this month, the city announced a partnership with Lowe’s to distribute flooding relief kits, which included drywall, cleaning supplies and more. However, some residents say they still haven’t received any drywall.

“What’s the holdup,?” said Maranita Sanders, who lives on Mary Avenue.

Sanders is staying with her daughter in Granite City until she can return home.

“That’s what we want to know. What is the holdup? It is so freaking frustrating. Absolutely nuts. And you call down there, and they’re telling you nothing. It’s pathetic.”

Glenda Merriweather, who lives on Terrace Drive, said she also hasn’t received drywall for her home.

“It’s going on two weeks,” Merriweather said. “They said someone (from the city) would be out from regulatory affairs would be out, but I haven’t seen anybody.”

Needing more help

Community Lifeline, a nonprofit in East St. Louis, is distributing drywall for residents affected by the flood. Wyvetta Granger, the president of the nonprofit, said residents had to wait until this week to receive drywall because they wanted to make sure homes were free of any mold.

“I’m not going to call it delay because, again, the first thing that we had to do with the drywall is to make sure that the residents’ homes that they were living in were dried out,” Granger said. “Making sure there wasn’t any mold and making sure that everything was dry and clean---that had to happen before drywall was put back into the homes. “What I was told from the crew that were doing the tear-outs was that after they pour the drywall out of the homes then they would go back in a couple of times and do mold remediation, which means they would spray the whole house down almost like with a water hose to make sure all the mold was killed first.

“Then, the wood would have to dry again in order for that to work properly and to make sure there was no new mold growing.”

Granger said the distribution days for flood relief kits, including drywall, is on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Residents must submit this form or call 618-482-2950 before picking up any supplies. She said a maximum of 10 sheets of drywall are allowed for each house, and residents must have a truck and loaders when picking up items.

“I don’t think we were behind,” Granger said. “I think people were anxious.”

‘It’s just frustrating’

Meanwhile Sharon Franklin, who lived on Terrace Drive, is struggling to find a new home. Her house was destroyed in the flood after a tree struck the back of her house, including the porch. Her family is currently staying in a hotel.

“It’s just frustrating because we can’t get any answers,” Franklin said. “No one seems to know anything. I can’t do anything. My hands are tied…it’s like you’re going into this blindfolded. We don’t know anything until we come to a meeting, and then if it’s at a meeting, it’s the last thing on the agenda.”

East St. Louis City Manager Carlos Mayfield said the city is aggressively working to tackle the issue and ensure residents are back in their homes.

Last week during a special meeting, the city council passed a resolution that will waive building permit fees for residents needing to renovate their homes due to flooding. Mayfield is also trying to work with the Illinois Department of Natural Resource to pursue flood remediation resources.

“We’ve repaired our pump stations, and there’s a spread of problems that we have to address, such as the Harding Ditch with the (U.S.) Army Corps of Engineers to assist us with that,” Mayfield said. “It’s a more comprehensive problem that we’ve got to address. Like we’ve said before and we’ll continue in this vein, a lot of our problems are subject to what’s going on around us.”

“ We’re taking so much water from up the hill, so while we’re working on a comprehensive plan to address it, we’ll need the Corps of Engineers to assist us.”

Wednesday’s town hall meeting will start at 6 p.m.at East St. Louis City Hall, which is located at 301 Riverpark Drive.

“That’s the most impacted issue–the flooding–right now,” Mayor Robert Eastern III said about the meeting. “We may get into some other things, but right now it’s just really the flooding. We want to make sure the citizens understand the processes, especially with the hard labor part of it. It’s been said that the city is tearing out (homes). We’re not tearing out any homes. We’ve partnered with the people that do that. The city is not tearing down or restoring any properties.”

DeAsia Page covers East St. Louis and its surrounding areas for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.