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Owners of Flooded Homes Making Claims Against Twin Falls

By Mychel Matthews, The Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 17--TWIN FALLS -- Kristina Anderson is living in her fifth-wheel camp trailer outside her house on Sigrid Avenue. Her son and daughter, 11 and 8, are staying with their father until it's safe to return home.

Their home was one of many in Twin Falls damaged Aug. 6 in the aftermath of what the National Weather Service called a 100-year storm.

While most property damage in town came from flood waters pouring in through soggy foundations and egress windows, Anderson's home was damaged by raw sewage that back flowed through city sewer pipes into her basement bathroom and laundry.

She and nine other homeowners, including a duplex landlord, are filing tort claims against the city for damage caused by the flood of sewage.

Anderson filed photos with her claim -- scenes of Barbie dolls and Legos floating in knee-deep black water, mattresses and bedding soaking in standing water and her children's newly purchased school clothes buried under the muck.

"The photos are gross, but not as gross as the reality," she said. "Even my insurance adjuster didn't want to look at them."

Elaine Bowman, who owns a flooded duplex on the 1700 block of Poplar Avenue, said the storm flooded the nearby Perrine Coulee, which poured into a manhole at the end of the street.

Bowman's renters called her at 7 that morning when they found sewage bubbling out of the basement shower drains and toilets. She estimates the flood caused $30,000 worth of damage to the duplex.

"If (city workers) knew this was happening, why didn't the city tell people to stop flushing their toilets?" she asked as she stood in her basement.

Ray and Kristy Pickett are asking the same question in their tort claim against the city. They say city officials told them the water in their rental home's basement was simply rainwater, but they never came out to check.

"The city provided false information," they said in their claim, "which led to prolonged exposure to contaminants."

The "mess and smell is overwhelming," said Tammy Coates, who rents the Picketts' house at 1858 Shoup Ave. E. "The damage to my family's personal property is devastating."

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Three feet of sewage stood in the basement, severely damaging the home, he Picketts said. They estimate damage at $21,850.

Coates also filed a claim against the city, but her damage cost is yet to be determined.

"The sentimental items can't be replaced," she said. Those include her children's artwork and her family's Christmas decorations.

What About Homeowners Insurance?

Other families on Sigrid Avenue west of Smith's Food and Drug Store were flooded with sewage, Anderson said.

But some haven't filed claims, and she doesn't know if they will.

"I don't know why they aren't," Anderson said. "I don't know if my homeowners insurance is going to pay any of this."

Probably not, said David Overacre, owner of Overacre Insurance in Kimberly.

That's why tort claims are being filed against the city.

Had the sewage come from a break in the homeowner's sewer lines -- perhaps caused by tree roots -- the homeowner's policy probably would cover it, Overacre said.

But because the damage was caused by the city's sewer lines, the homeowners' policies won't cover it.

"This flood has sparked a lot of conversations," Overacre said, calling the experience "enlightening" to many.

The storm dumped up to 4 inches of rain in two days in areas of Twin Falls. Had the damage been caused by rain coming through roofs, the standard homeowner's policy would pay for losses, he said.

But once rain hits the ground, it's "surface water," Overacre said, and that damage is not covered unless the homeowner has flood insurance.

Lenders generally require flood insurance for people who buy property in flood zones, he said.

The City's Response

In her claim against the city, Kristy Pickett said City Manager Travis Rothweiler called her to explain the claims process.

Twin Falls is covered for such damage by its insurance underwriter, Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, city spokesman Joshua Palmer said.

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Rothweiler said the severe storm caught everyone off guard, but there is no way to prepare for such an extreme event. "We received 40 percent of our annual precipitation in 72 hours," he said.

John Caton, public works director, agreed. "We don't design drain systems for ... 100-year storm events."

But the city is now looking "through critical lenses" at how it handles such emergencies, Rothweiler said. "We need to look at our internal communication to make sure that all individuals inside the city have all the details they need."

Meanwhile, homeowners say they are still in shock.

"I don't feel anything yet," Anderson said. "I'm just trying to get my life put back together."


(c)2014 The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho)

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