Despite the storm, still giving thanks

Holiday: Without working kitchens or in some cases entire homes, Isabel's victims prepare for a changed, if not more poignant, Thanksgiving.

November 27, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Thanksgiving is usually a quiet holiday for Rick and Kim Morris - the day they spend in sweat pants with just the kids. They count their blessings, eat turkey, watch football and curl up together on the couch.

This year, Tropical Storm Isabel changed all that.

The Morrises will still be together and give thanks today. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross and their insurance adjuster have all become part of their Thanksgiving story.

Their kitchen appliances are in a landfill. Their living room furniture is on the second floor with boxes of things they salvaged after their home was flooded. And they're weeks away from having to tear down part of their dream house overlooking the Seneca Creek in Essex.

"The stuff is just stuff," said Kim Morris, a 37-year-old Verizon engineer with three children. "We do have a lot to be thankful for."

Friends have stepped in to help them rebuild. A fund drive at one of their children's schools generated more than $2,000 in contributions, and lumber and furniture have been donated.

Then, this month brought the news that their flood insurance will pay for at least a portion of the damage from the storm, which hit Sept. 18, just three weeks after they moved into the Nollmeyer Road house.

"It's pretty exciting," Morris said. "I believe my prayers were answered. ... I also believe it will all work out."

Today, the family will have Thanksgiving dinner at the house of Rick's uncle and aunt, where they've been living with Kim Morris' 6-year-old and 16-year-old sons since the flood. There wasn't room for Kim's 19-year-old daughter and the daughter's 8-month-old son to stay with them. She had to move in with her boyfriend's family.

"I want to be with my mom," said Krystle Crane. "But we're making the best of it."

Families throughout eastern Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties are having to alter their Thanksgiving tradi- tions because Isabel left them with damaged or destroyed houses.

The Morris' next-door neighbor, Emilie Hosna, a 57-year-old retired state worker, has had to move into an apartment in Rosedale. She expects the demolition crews to level her two-story house by Christmas.

Down the street, other neighbors are living in their driveway in a trailer supplied by FEMA.

"People don't realize how quickly it can all get taken away," said Rick Morris. a 37-year-old supermarket manager.

For Isabel victims, it happened in a single night.

By 8 p.m., the water in Seneca Creek was a foot below the Morris' pier. They had moved their cars up the road, just in case. But they never expected the water to get that close. "I thought we'd be OK," Morris said.

Two hours later, as the water lapped close to their back deck, he said, "I knew we were in trouble."

He and Kim and her 16-year-old son, Justin, a Sparrows Point High School senior, started moving furniture - at first just away from the back room and then later into the second-floor bedrooms.

About 12:30 a.m., the water started coming into the house. "I thought after high tide around 2 a.m. we'd start to see the water recede, but it just kept rising," he said.

At sunrise, there was more than a foot of water in the first floor and they could see the water was waist-high around their house. They put some clothes and paperwork into a plastic container and waded down the street.

"It was a scene from a movie," Rick Morris said. "You could hear the trees snapping in the distance ... and the air smelled like oil."

Nine days after the flood, they still hadn't seen their insurance adjuster. And after he did come to survey their house, he told them the damage would not be covered because the two-story addition didn't meet construction standards for a flood zone.

FEMA officials tried to help sort out the confusion. A Red Cross truck brought lunch and dinner to their doorstep, as the pile of debris in their yard became a mountain.

The Small Business Administration offered them a $118,900 loan to help with the repairs, which at $482 a month would take them 30 years to repay.

"I thought long and hard about walking away from it all," Rick Morris said. "But we're not the kind to leave our responsibilities ... . This was our dream. When we moved in, we were happy. The six of us were more of a family than ever."

Their employers, friends and relatives have been a constant source of support, the couple said.

A friend whose brother-in-law is a builder agreed to help them cut the cost of rebuilding. Mountain Christian School in Joppa where Kim Morris' 6-year-old son, Bradley, is in first grade took up a collection for the family, sending home a $2,075 check. And a parent from the school secured donations from several furniture stores and a lumber-supply store in Harford County.

In two weeks, Rick Morris' friends are coming over with power tools to help him tear down the oldest section of the house. "I'll get beer and pizza. It'll be OK," said Morris, managing a smile.

Earlier this month, they got good news about their insurance. Because of uncertainty over whether the addition constituted a substantial improvement to the house, it appears their policy will cover some of the damage.

A real estate agent helped them get paperwork from the county that they needed to process their insurance claim. It's unclear how much damage the settlement will cover.

But, Kim Morris said, "The love we got from people was unbelievable - the school, church, our jobs. ... You see the goodness of people when something like this happens."

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