TEKAMAH, Neb. — A skeleton of dirty 2-by-6s is all that remains of the floor of Gregg Baker's weekend residence.
Baker and his family ripped up the warped flooring and bagged the wet insulation under it during the past two weeks, after the muddy floodwaters of the Missouri River ended their summerlong visit.
Now the fit and trim 55-year-old is digging out, shovel load by shovel load, a 4- to 6-inch layer of dried mud left in a cramped crawl space.
He has stopped counting the loads of silt he has hauled out on wheelbarrows pushed along a gangplank of loose boards atop the framework floor.
But he's determined to repair and rebuild, even though he has no flood insurance, doesn't qualify for federal disaster aid and isn't quite sure how he'll pay for the thousands of dollars in damages. He and his wife, Nancy, still owe money on the spacious modular home they bought and moved into two years ago.
"This is our retirement home," said the part-time teacher and owner of a gymnastics school in Columbus, Neb.
"Some people aren't going to come back, but we've been coming up here for 30 years," he said. "Our whole lives are up here. We don't have a lot of choice but to try and save it."
The waiting is over for dozens of home and cabin owners along the Missouri in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. With floodwaters mostly receded, it's time for the owners to roll up their sleeves and get to work, determine whether structures can be saved and, if so, decide what needs to be done and how to pay for it.
Baker's weekend home is among about 675 dwellings in Nebraska confirmed or suspected of being damaged by the flooding. About 170 of those were deemed destroyed.
In western Iowa, an estimated 27 homes were destroyed, with 169 more suffering major damage.
Federal aid checks worth more than $1.15 million have already been issued in Nebraska, and low-interest loans of nearly $500,000 have been approved.
As of Friday morning, 887 people had registered for assistance in Nebraska, and more than 500 applications for assistance have been approved. At least 10 individuals whose income was too high to qualify for aid have obtained low-interest disaster loans.
The scene at the Harbor 671 cabin development northeast of Tekamah illustrates what's ahead for flood victims.
The mud line, marking the high point of the 70 days of flooding, rose 4 to 5 feet high on some dwellings.
Piles of soggy insulation and water-stained wood stood outside some homes.
And the smell of mold was strong outside buildings that hadn't been opened for ventilation.
A couple of residents have purchased new homes and have refused to return to the subdivision because they can't bear to see the damage.
Probably five to eight of the 30 cabins, trailers and homes that sit alongside an old oxbow of the Missouri will have to be torn or burned down, according to Dave Brainard, a hardy Harbor 671 homeowner who rode out the flood, using motorboats to commute to work.
"Go With the Flow — I Survived the Missouri River Flood of 2011" reads his T-shirt.
Inside one modular home, the linoleum and carpet flooring buckled up in spongy waves. The scaly coating of dried mud on the floor crunched underfoot.
A dead minnow here and there and splotches of gray, green and red mold climbing the walls were reminders of the now-receded water.
"It was much worse than I had imagined," said the home's owner, Sally Burkhiser, a 69-year-old widow who used to operate a body shop in north Omaha with her husband, Conde.
Burkhiser had no flood insurance on her $100,000 home, but she's hopeful she can receive a disaster check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because her modular home, unlike Baker's, is a full-time residence.
She said the FEMA people she's talked to have been friendly, but they won't inspect her house until a good road is re-established to Harbor 671.
Right now, a 13- to 15-foot-deep washout remains in the county road that leads to the development, and another hundred yards of road owned by the development was washed away.
The development is reachable only by driving through a farm field.
A Burt County dump truck arrived Wednesday to begin rebuilding the county road, but residents were told it could be a week or two before the work is completed.
"They say the problem is the county doesn't have a lot of money and has only one truck," Brainard said.
Until the road is repaired, electrical and rural water lines into Harbor 671 won't be rebuilt.
That means a couple more weeks of buying gasoline for Brainard to run — at a cost of $38 every eight hours — an electric generator at a neighbor's house, where he and his wife, Kathie, waited out the flooding.
Al Berndt, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said homeowners need to be patient; it takes time for counties to obtain federal repair funds. An inspection, an estimate and then approval from a Kansas City regional office all are required first.
"It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be fast," Berndt said.
Burkhiser, like many of her neighbors, blames the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the flooding. She says the agency should have released more water in the spring and winter so summer floodwater could have been contained behind dams.
"I can't see pouring a bunch of money into a new home until I'm pretty sure they won't do that again," she said.
Some of her neighbors balked initially at taking aid checks from FEMA.
The Brainards said they will probably cash the $8,921 FEMA check they received to repair their $200,000 home and reimburse their neighbors for staying in their home.
Initially they were going to turn down the money after hearing rumors that they'd have to buy flood insurance for the rest of their lives, a cost of about $440 a year, whether they lived there or not.
That turned out to be incorrect.
Berndt said the federal program requires flood insurance on property repaired with federal money to "mitigate the risk" and ensure that federal aid alone won't repair any new flood damage in the future.
Few homeowners had flood insurance. Most were assured that it was unnecessary because they were above the 100-year flood plain. Even the few who had it are hitting snags.
Kevin Brenneis, a Tekamah insurance broker, said some flood cleanup companies refuse to begin restoration work until a structural engineer deems a building salvageable.
Such inspections are an unexpected out-of-pocket expense for homeowners, he said, and bring another delay in starting work.
Brenneis said there's plenty of concern about how farmland will rebound after being scoured by months of flooding. A nearly 50-foot-deep channel now running across one field would take millions of yards of dirt to restore, he said.
"Mother Nature is pretty proficient in moving earth if she wants to," Brenneis said.
FEMA opened a disaster center in Tekamah to assist homeowners, and members of the Harbor 671 homeowners association have met to devise a plan to rebuild their entrance road and restore power and water.
Down at Baker's cabin, he worried how he and his family would pay for the repair work, replacing flooring and appliances, patching drywall, rebuilding the garage and killing mold.
Without flood insurance or FEMA aid, he's hoping Congress will authorize a federal income tax break for flood victims, as it has in the past.
But beyond that — who knows?
"Anything will help. Anything," Baker said. "I have no idea at all where the money will come from."
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