Home without comforts

Shady Side

Tropical Storm Isabel: Six Months Later

March 21, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

For many families in Eileen Thaden's intimate shorefront community in southern Anne Arundel County, Tropical Storm Isabel remains a part of daily life.

The lucky ones are finishing repairs on decks and porches. Or they're reminded of the storm every time they stare at the shattered community pier, jutting out of the Chesapeake Bay at a 45-degree angle.

The less fortunate - such as Thaden, her husband, Jim, and their two daughters - remain unable to move back into their homes. They can't easily spend $100,000 to repair or rebuild. So they live in 30-foot-long trailers with insufficient heat, water and space.

"None of us was prepared for this financially or emotionally," Thaden said, walking through her neighborhood on a recent afternoon, pointing out houses that are being rebuilt and others that have been abandoned.

Cedarhurst on the Bay is a 400-house enclave on the eastern edge of the Shady Side peninsula. Residents endured Hurricanes Fran and Floyd, but nothing prepared them for Isabel.

As midnight approached the night of the storm, the Thadens heard waves clapping against the bottom of their house. Next, they watched bay water push up from the crawl space through the floorboards and carpet. About 4 a.m., they heard their deck begin to break loose. By daybreak, they couldn't see dry land.

As the waters receded, the work began. Families ripped out soaked carpet and insulation, and they used battery-operated pumps to remove what water they could. Still, Thaden and her neighbors felt optimistic.

"People were breathing a sigh of relief, saying, `Thank goodness, we have flood insurance,'" she recalled. "I felt like we were OK, we were ... going to get through this."

She quickly learned that reconstruction would be more complicated than she expected. The advance check from the flood insurance went to the bank holding the Thadens' mortgage. And the bank wouldn't release the money until the family obtained building permits from the county. The Thadens couldn't get those permits without raising their house several feet.

That, a contractor estimated, would cost about $100,000. Federal money would pay $30,000, but the Thadens would have to cover the rest. They couldn't afford it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer where the family would live arrived at their property in late October. Then came winter. The pipes froze, it became hard to heat the trailer, and ice formed on the metal stairs. Jim Thaden got sick trying to unfreeze the pipes and missed two weeks of work.

Even with the frigid weather gone, daily life is often uncomfortable. Katie Thaden, 12, sleeps in a cubby so tight that it looks like something out of a submarine movie. During a recent visit, she pulled a blanket across the entrance to her bunk and said, "This is pretty much the only privacy I get."

Bonnie Thaden, 15, sleeps on a pullout couch in the middle of the trailer's combination living room and kitchen. The girls have to go into the closet-sized bathroom to use their computer. The family can't do laundry or take hot showers.

The Thadens don't want to sell their property and uproot the family, but they're considering selling at least part of it.

"We really aren't at a point where we can afford to start over," Eileen Thaden said.

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