When the sump pump kicks on in the basement, a Franklin man can feel the air vibrate in the house.
Bobby Seng is tuned in to that sound now. He and his wife, Sharon, say they don’t even notice the noise from trains that roll behind their new house. But Bobby Seng always wakes up at night when the sump pump kicks on.
They didn’t have a basement in their old house.
When they moved in to the new house, they soon learned that the pump was there to keep water from filling up the house. After losing their home to a flood once, they always think of the sump pump when the rain starts falling.
They were in Ohio in June 2008 at a rifle shooting competition. By the time they got messages from neighbors that afternoon, they already had about 2 feet of water in their house.
They came home to find their soggy golden retriever in the living room chasing tennis balls floating in the water.
The Sengs moved in with relatives and bought a new house within five months. They watched their credit rating plummet when they couldn’t make mortgage payments on both homes. They waited two years before they were able to get a buyout check and watch their old home get knocked down.
For five years, they’ve been trying to get back their lifestyle before the flood. They’ve spent $150,000 replacing a vehicle, furniture and everything else they lost.
But while they love their new house, they still miss their old neighbors and the community they lost.
“Five years later and we’re just getting the tip of our head out of the water,” Bobby Seng said. “There were a whole lot of people who weren’t as fortunate as us.”
The house they lived in for 15 years at 498 Dunn St. was one of the last houses on the block to flood.
The neighbors tried to call, but the noise of gunfire at the shooting competition drowned out the ringing of Sharon Seng’s phone. They didn’t find out until that evening that Franklin had flooded.
After the water receded, they were able to keep some clothes that were hanging in the closet, dishes and three pieces of wood furniture. But all the fabric furniture, electronics, appliances and a car with less than 2,500 miles parked in the driveway were destroyed.
The house valued at $65,000 wasn’t worth the cost to tear it down, elevate the land and rebuild in the same place. Bobby Seng estimated it might have cost $200,000 to rebuild on Dunn Street.
Bobby Seng, who has severe mold allergies, couldn’t even go inside the house to help clean up.
They moved in with Bobby’s Seng’s parents for three months and spent two months in an apartment before they were able to borrow a down payment from Sharon Seng’s parents and buy their Franklin home for $82,000 in November 2008.
“It was either borrow the money or live with your mother-in-law,” Bobby Seng said.
The Sengs had a new mortgage to pay but also still had to try to pay the mortgage on their flood-damaged home. They received about $30,000 in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which helped them make both payments for about nine months before they stopped paying on the Dunn Street home.
The flood was followed by the national recession in late 2008, and the couple lost about half their income. Sharon Seng was consistently working overtime at a Franklin manufacturer but was told she wouldn’t be able to work extra hours any more due to company cutbacks. Bobby Seng has severe asthma and allergies and hasn’t worked since before the flood because of those conditions.
Although they told the mortgage company their house was flooded and unlivable and they were waiting for a government buyout, that wasn’t a valid excuse to miss payments, Bobby Seng said.
When they finally got the $65,000 buyout check, they were able to settle with the mortgage company and finally be free of the Dunn Street home in July 2010. Unlike other neighbors, the bank never foreclosed on the house, which allowed them to pay off the mortgage and move on. Since then it’s been a slow process of building their savings and continuing to replace the items they’ve lost.
“Replacing a little bit here and there, it’s taken us five years to get back to normalcy,” Sharon Seng said.
But their attitudes will never be what they were before the flood. They’re nervous to leave the house for a weekend for fear that they’ll come back to find Franklin flooded again.
“It definitely gave us a reality check. We don’t live frivolously. We’re more conservative than what we used to be.,” Sharon Seng said.
They’re happier with their new house, with a larger kitchen, larger yard, garage and basement. They replaced the lost car and furniture slowly during the five years.
They drive down Dunn Street from time to time. The drive reminds them of Fourth of July block parties, sitting on a truck tailgate enjoying a beer with a neighbor or having a backyard bonfire.
“That kind of stuff you miss. You can’t help but miss that because that’s just good neighbors and good friends,” Bobby Seng said.
5 years later
Bobby and Sharon Seng
498 Dunn St., Franklin
Were out of town in Ohio and found out that evening that about 2 feet of water flooded the house
Where they are now
Moved into a new house on Graham Street in Franklin in November 2008
How they changed
They get nervous when heading out of town and have arrangements with neighbors to check on the house during heavy rain.