Plagued by Doubts, Flood Victims Begin Again

Warm October days, cool crisp evenings, the noise of saws and hammers, slowly dwindling piles of debris. All of these sights and sounds makes one think that a month after the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, life is starting to return to normal in Bloomsburg.

But for Tina Parks Erb, her husband Marlin, and their sons Kyle (17) and Walker (8), things are far from normal. For them, their neighbors in the west end of town, and all families affected by the flood, new worries and dangers abound.

Floor and Moulding Buckling
Floor and Moulding Buckling
On Wednesday, September 7th the sheriff’s office alerted Mrs. Erb and her family that Fishing Creek was rising and, with no time to put any of their belongings up out of the water’s way, the Erbs had no choice but to evacuate. When they returned to their rental on Sunday, September 11th to view the damage for the first time, the Erbs discovered 3-4 inches of water and mud had covered the entirety of their first floor apartment. The basement had flooded to a depth of 7 feet, and Mrs. Erb estimated that the water remained there for another 4 to 5 days.

The water is gone now, but the repairs are far from complete. Mrs. Erb stated that she was informed by her landlord on Thursday, September 29th that the apartment was cleaned, treated for mold, and that everything was acceptable for her and her family to move back in. She, however, doubts her landlord’s assessment.

A few repairs are complete. “The flooring in the front of the house has been replaced, the carpet too,” Mrs. Erb indicated, but she is unsure whether that matters with the wet mud still in her basement. “You can see the paint starting to bubble up on the wall.  The floor is warping, and that wood holding down the new floor is pulling away from the wall,” she says of the new base moulding. Older, original moulding is still caked with dried mud.  “I don’t think any of this was cleaned.”

Dried Mud on Moulding
Dried Mud on Moulding
Four days after her landlord assured her the apartment was safe to return to, an inspection by the Town of Bloomsburg Code Enforcement Office confirmed Mrs Erb’s fears. A copy of the inspection report, obtained by The Bloomsburg Daily, noted that there was a “mold condition in [the] basement.”

The Code Office’s report (dated October 3rd) also indicated that much damage was still present and many items needed to be either repaired or replaced, including:

  • Replacement or servicing of the heating unit
  • Replacement or servicing of the hot water heater
  • Replacement of wall coverage and insulation up to 12 inches above the water level
  • Replacement of electrical devices, including receptacles, below the water level

In a public letter from the Bloomsburg Code Office posted on the Town of Bloomsburg’s website, the Code Office states:

“In addressing the subject of electrical components located below the flood elevation, all electrical devices such as switches; receptacles; light fixtures; circuit breakers; disconnecting devices and the like, must be replaced [emphasis added]. This is not only a consistent policy of this office but it is the position of most (if not all) electrical agencies.”

Unrepaired Outlet below Flood Level
Unrepaired Outlet below Flood Level

At the time of this interview on October 7th (four days after the inspection which noted the replacement of all receptables below water level), the original electrical outlets in Mrs. Erb’s residence still appeared to be the unrepaired originals.

The report concluded that there were “minimal repairs at time of inspection.”

Mold Grows in the Corner of the Erb's First Floor Apartment
Mold Grows in the Corner of the Erb's First Floor Apartment

Mud and damp carpeting still remained in the basement on Friday, as well. The water-logged wooden basement stairs gently bowed as this reporter went downstairs to survey the damage and the piles of mud. “This place is not fit to live in,” said Mrs. Erb, motioning to the mold that is beginning to grow in the first floor corners of her still-damp home.

Jen Ralston reports on the the proper way to remove mold and to dry your home in this Bloomsburg Daily article, posted 6 October.

Wet Carpeting and Waterlogged Staircase
Wet Carpeting and Waterlogged Staircase

Mrs. Erb still has doubts about her apartment’s safety and has yet to return home. The family continues to live in the same motel they evacuated to on September 7th. “Code Enforcement has done what they can do at this point,” she said, but that seems to be of little comfort to her. She stated that she had not heard anything more from either that office or her landlord since the original inspection and she’s uncertain about who to believe or what truly needs to be done.

In her time of trouble, Mrs. Erb’s empathy and concern also turns toward her neighbors, equally as afflicted as she, “They’re afraid to do anything [about possible safety hazards] because they need a place to stay.”  Wondering about their futures she says, “It’s weird how the community’s changed. I feel people forget that there are still victims and there will be flood victims for years. I worry that people will forget that.

Mud in the Basement
Mud in the Basement

“I worry about the long term effects and and the fear some people have about speaking up. What happens to people whose homes don’t get fixed right? What are they going to do long term? Where are they going to go? I’ve seen people working on [repairing their homes] by themselves. I see an older couple across the street, he’s just going on doing it by himself. Who’s helping him?”

While speaking of her neighbors, Mrs. Erb’s eyes came to rest on a picture of her sons; a picture several years old, of her children dressed for Halloween. “This is what family is. This is what home is. I lived here.”

Tina Poses with a Picture of Her Sons
Tina Poses with a Picture of Her Sons

A lifelong resident of Bloomsburg, Mrs. Erb feels a strong attachment to the town where she and her sons grew up. Yet that connection isn’t as strong as her concern for her children. Mrs. Erb is particularly worried about her younger son Walker, whose health condition makes him susceptible to mold spores.  She was warned by her doctor that excessive exposure to mold could induce seizures. “Those boys are my life, and no one will jeopardize them.”

The morning of the interview she was hopeful that she found a new home for her sons — one she felt safe with, without the dampness and growing mold, but outside of town and away from where she and her family have lived for years.

She looked around slowly at her children’s toys, the keepsakes her sons had pulled from trash piles, memories that others had tried to throw away. “I don’t know about anyone else,” she says, reflecting, “but we’re not coming back.”

 In speaking with the Code Enforcement Office, The Bloomsburg Daily has been informed that there will be follow up inspections. Residents, however, are strongly encouraged to contact that office at (570) 784-7123 for a follow up inspection as soon as the repairs indicated on their preliminary inspection sheets are made.

Photos by Derek Gittler

Current Flood Resources for Victims and Donors

While the clean up from the 2011 Flood continues in Bloomsburg, it is helpful to once again alert everyone to the various needs and resources in town.  The Bloomsburg Chapter of the American Red Cross has provided the following information.  If you have additional items that would be helpful to include (or changes to the information), please email or comment below.

Give Blood
For information on the nearest donation time and place or to schedule a donation, please call 1‐800‐RED‐CROSS or 1‐800‐432‐8045.

Office on Aging Help
People over 60 may call 1-570-784‐9272 for flood‐related help.  In addition, there is an office representative at the FEMA Center on 702 Sawmill Road.

Financial Help with Flood­-Related Expenses
Please report your damage to home or business to both the following numbers or offices:

Columbia County Emergency Center at 1-570­-389­-5606 or 1-570-389-­5665
FEMA National at 1-­800­-621­-3362, or in person at 702 Sawmill Rd.

FEMA Center
The center is located at 702 Sawmill Road. Go there to apply for financial help. The office is open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. It might be helpful to call the FEMA number or visit their website first (below). The kind of help likely to be provided by FEMA includes 1) rental money for homeowners and renters, 2) grants to get working basic house systems (heating, refrig, sewage, water systems); and 3) low‐interest loans for home repair and personal property. For details on this and other kinds of help, see the FEMA and PEMA links on the following websites:

Flood-Related Unemployment Assistance
Applicants may file for Disaster Unemployment Assistance by calling toll free at 877-FILE DUA (877-345-3382), from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.  Individuals using a text telephone (TTY) may call toll free at 888-334-4046.   Click here for more information.

Small Business Association Loans
See the SBA representative at the FEMA Center, 702 Sawmill Road.

Utility Bills Assistance
The Salvation Army may provide help.  Please call 1-570-387‐4112 or try Human Services at 1-570-387‐6501.

To find replacement housing to purchase or rent for flood victims, call 1‐ 877‐428‐8844 or on the web go to www.PAHousingSearch.comFirst Columbia Bank is providing low‐interest loans.

Heating or Fuel Leaks
Please call the Department  of Environmental Protection at 1-570-327‐3636.

Electrical Damage
For reports of electrical damage, please call PP&L at 1‐800‐342‐5775.

Free Carpeting
Bloomsburg Carpet Industries may be providing carpet to those in need.

Legal Resources
Please call 1‐877‐861‐8589.

Well ­Testing Kits
Available from FEMA at 702 Sawmill Road.

Pastoral Counseling
Counseling is available from the following pastors regardless of affiliation:

  • Maggie Gillespie, Campus Ministry, 1-570-854‐1117
  • Doug Lyon, Shiloh Bible Church, 1-570-336‐6766 or 1-570-784‐3667
  • Jeff Bohan, St. Luke’s, 1-570-784‐5035
  • Jenn Parks‐Snyder, 1-570-784‐9271 or 1-570-784‐5165
  • Jane O’Borski, Wesley Methodist, 1-570-784‐1407 or 1-570-784‐3251
  • Joel Zeiders, 1-570-784‐4515
  • Terry Brosius, 1-570-387‐0140 or 1-570-389‐1282
  • Jay Jones, 1-570-784‐1407 or 1-814‐592‐5355

Donations of Money or Other Items and Volunteer Workers

Send or bring cash or checks to:

  • Bloomsburg Red Cross
    119 E. 7th St., Bloomsburg, PA 17815
    Please make payable to “American Red Cross Disaster Relief” and include the memo line: Bloomsburg Chapter
  • Agape, 19 E. 7th St., Bloomsburg, PA 17815 Memo line : Flood relief
  • Central Susquehanna Community Foundation, 725 Front St., Berwick 18603 Memo line: “Disaster Relief Fund for Susquehanna Valley”
  • Columbia Mall, at Mall Services Office
  • Salvation Army, 320 E. 2nd St. Berwick 18603

*It is not possible to donate online to the Red Cross from another area and have it designated for flood relief in this area. Nor is it possible to donate by telephone. Donors are asked to send checks to the local office.
Important Information and Numbers

  • Agape  1-570-317‐2210
  • Bloomsburg Flood Hotline  1-570-784‐6779
  • Columbia County 1-570-389‐5728
  • National FEMA number 1‐800‐621‐3362
  • Local PEMA numbers 1-570-389‐5606, 1-570-389‐5665 , 1-570-389‐5720
  • Hemlock Township 1-570-784‐6178; 1-570-336‐7297
  • No. Col. County Cultural Center 1-570-925‐0163
  • Bloomsburg Red Cross 1-570-784‐1395
  • Scott Township listen to WHLM
  • St. Repres. David Millard : flood‐related 1-570-387‐0246, or visit 240 Market St.
  • St. Sen. John Gordner : flood‐related 1-570-784‐3464
  • Salvation Army 1-570-387‐4112; 1-570-759‐1214
  • St.Luke’s 1-570-784-5035
  • Agape at Moose Exchange 862‐812‐9855 (Hours 1-6pm on Monday and Thursday and 10-2pm on Saturday)

Columbia County Emergency Management Agency has the following information:

  • Food and Water Safety During Floods
  • Disinfecting Private Wells
  • Safety tips for dealing with flooded property
  • American Red Cross Flood Survival Guide
  • Health Threats from Flood Waters