Archive | November, 2017

Thankful To Be Safe And Well

23 Nov

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It has been 45 days since we fled for our lives and watched in horror from a hotel room as television news crews witnessed entire communities, including ours, burn to the ground.  I can never forget those feelings.  Now, on Thanksgiving Day, I am overcome with amazement and gratitude that we are safe and well.  If my husband had not awoken as early as he did, if he had not investigated why it smelled like a campfire, we might have been among those who were trapped by flames on all sides.

Today we do not care about turkey or feasting or bargain hunting.  Today we paint.  We powered through the emotions, pushed and pulled through financial hurdles, and found a place to call home, and yesterday at 5:30pm we received the keys to our next adventure.  Together.  Safe and well.

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Tomorrow we get WiFi and lots of little touches that make it Home.  Saturday we check out of the hotel that has been our temporary shelter, and introduce our three kitties–who are also noticeably thankful to have survived that wretched night!–to their new safe haven.  Sunday we wake up at home.  Home.  It has a whole new depth of emotion associated with that word, that sound in my head.  Home.  Home Sweet Home.

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Giving Thanks for a New Home

19 Nov

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Week Six

It was evident within days of the firestorm that destroyed our community that living in Santa Rosa was no longer an option.  The issue of affordable housing had already been a factor in the region, and with multiple disasters hitting the U.S. in September and October, a sudden shortage of new construction materials would mean higher prices and longer waits.  Compound that problem with the necessity of City and County reorganizing and rethinking how best to rebuild, and now you’re talking years before we can return to Santa Rosa.  Our decisions had to be made immediately and would impact the rest of our lives.  For me and my husband, it made sense to return to SoCal.

We are fortunate in that I can work anywhere via internet and my husband can find work in any major city.  At first we considered San Diego because my husband’s son lives there and we thoroughly enjoyed our vacation in that sunny, breezy, beach city.  The other idea was to invest in a condo near California State University in Long Beach because my son is transferring there in 2018, and since I promised to help him through college, this was the most practical location.  It was with some trepidation, however, that on October 23rd we signed a contract with our future and opened a 30-day escrow period; tomorrow we sign loan documents to seal the deal, and on Wednesday we will have the keys.

This year on the fourth Thursday of November, we will begin moving into the top/front unit in the building shown above–the one with the beautiful arched window over the balcony.  Donations from co-workers, friends and family combined with a partial insurance payout buffered most of the loss, and pulling a chunk out of retirement savings made our Thanksgiving home possible.

Our joy is mixed with sorrow, however, while my husband’s Mom remains in dire straits.  Her insurance policy did not cover the full cost to move the mobile home, she still owes $19,000 to the bank, and reports of looting in our neighborhood have kept her on edge.  She has been very sick for two weeks, and has been staying in hotels or with friends for six weeks.  We hope she can sell her home soon and start over in a city near us that has affordable homes for retirees.

JEMHP-SaharaStIt has been a daunting post-traumatic period, cushioned by many acts of kindness and friendship.  Throughout this epic loss, the blessings of living in a civilized country have kept us from sinking into poverty and despair.  The firestorm would have incinerated the entire region were it not for thousands of brave people and the advantages of technology pushing back the flames.  We are most thankful that my husband awoke when he did, that our lives were spared, and that we did not lose everything.  ♥

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Image courtesy of LivePuntaMita.com

 

 

Harsh Reality

9 Nov

One Month After The Santa Rosa Firestorm

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It’s called a disaster for a reason.  The situation is a massive disruption of normalcy!  And now, a month after our frantic 3am evacuation, my family has arrived at the harsh reality of multiple levels of red tape and deep uncertainty.

Our homes are among those still standing in a mobile home park that is otherwise utterly destroyed.

The insurance says our homes can be repaired, and they are paying for the cost of repairs, however, even after repairs, we cannot live in them.  Indefinitely.  The future of the park is yet to be determined, as is the case with most of the neighborhoods destroyed–exactly what to rebuild there is in question.  Santa Rosa needed more affordable housing before the fires.  Now it needs much more!

The park owner has not figured out next steps or a timeline.

Meanwhile, our homes are exposed to further damage by looters and homeless people seeking shelter.

In my mother-in-law’s case, her home is almost new and she owes the bank $19k, and the bank has told her she is not allowed to move it.  She also cannot sell it, since no one can live in it (there are no utilities and it will likely take months to rebuild all of the infrastructure in the park).  So, the insurance will only pay for repair, she can’t live there, can’t sell it, has paid $57k for this home and still owes $19k, and she has to figure out where to live until all of this red tape is sliced!  My stomach is in knots about it and her anxiety level is sky high.

Donate funds to assist Inger Simonsen

So this has been a month long roller coaster, or rather, it’s been more like a House of Horrors–with monstrous ordeals suddenly shrieking at us from hidden places.  Words like “asbestos contamination” and “condemned” and “ineligible for assistance” changed our course daily.  One week to the next, patiently waiting, and no one able to provide answers.  Rumors and speculation.  Guesswork.  Suspended indefinitely between hope and fear.

At this point, our only hope is that someday a settlement will be reached with PG&E to compensate the losses.  There is evidence that their faulty equipment and/or negligence caused the Tubbs Fire that destroyed 4,658 homes in Santa Rosa.

For now, we are stuck in limbo.  The fence around the mobile home park was put up by the City and is being taken down at the end of the week.  There is no security onsite.  We have retrieved valuables from inside, and will lock them up, but that’s as good as it gets.  We can only hope this situation is resolved sooner rather than later.

We have talked with City Council, the Mayor, the Press Democrat, FEMA, Red Cross, United Way, and a couple of attorneys.  And we are still stuck in limbo.

This is what it means to be caught in a sudden natural disaster of such magnitude that an entire region is disrupted.

Here’s a video shot by firefighters for perspective.

Silver Linings

4 Nov

Week Four

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Neighbors at Journey’s End Mobile Home Park, 1 Nov 2017

A lot happened this week.  We finally heard from Evans Management that residents of Journey’s End Mobile Home Park would be given access to retrieve personal property.  My husband made the long schlep again from L.A. to North Bay, 474 miles.  His mother went with him to get as much as they could take in the car, and put things into storage until we have a place to live.  We were supposed to have five days, November 1st to 5th, from 8am to 4pm, but on Friday morning, the park was shut down by the EPA because of hazardous materials–including asbestos!  The park is now officially condemned.*

 

[*Update: “Condemned” status is short-term. Authorities stated in a meeting yesterday with Journey’s End residents that test results are expected Wednesday.  So we are in still in limbo.]

That is both good news and bad news.  For those of us who have been in limbo because our property is still standing, but the conditions were unlivable (due to no utilities and surrounded by toxic waste), it was a welcome relief because as far as insurance was concerned, our homes could be salvaged.  Now, word on the street is that the EPA is not going to let anyone take anything else out of the park, to minimize the spread of contamination.  That means we cannot have our homes towed to another site, which means in essence, the fire destroyed our homes through cross contamination.  This should mean that the insurance company should payout as a total loss.  We still do not have confirmation that they will see it this way, but at least we have a case–if they do not treat our homes as destroyed, we can appeal their decision and get a judge’s opinion.  One thing is certain:  We can all stop looking for a place to move our homes.  Those contaminated homes are not going anywhere!

This is bad news for our uninsured neighbor, Louise, and those like her who could not afford homeowners insurance.  For them, it is all loss.  The silver lining for her is that she had a chance to save some of her favorite things, and she has family to help her cope with the trauma of losing her community of 37 years.

Resilience means focusing on those silver linings.  The total destruction of stuff gives one a blank canvas.  The altering experience of waking in the middle of the night to imminent danger gives one fresh perspective.  We take the blank canvas and newfound appreciation and with tremendous gratitude create a new home.

Such experiences strengthen our bonds with family, friends, and co-workers.  Feeling loved and supported transforms all involved.  Relationships, as everyone knows, are most important, and disasters have a way of growing trust and admiration, whether directly or vicariously impacted.  It has made us all think and feel about what matters most.  We have all hugged more, been more gentle with ourselves and others, and have felt more thankful for life’s simple pleasures.

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