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Their guiding hand, City official still moved by flood memories


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When the rain falls for several days or downpours during quick storms, you might see Joanna Myers driving near the creeks through Franklin.

She knows that checking the water level won’t keep it from rising higher.

But as the city’s senior planner and floodplain administrator, it’s her job to do any damage assessments from flooding. In 2008, that meant checking hundreds of houses and businesses for damage and watching city residents pick through their waterlogged and ruined homes and possessions.

She saw those people’s belongings covered in sludge and muck. She guided residents through a government buyout, helping them get checks for their destroyed homes before they could move on. And for residents who wanted to rebuild, she’s been there to make sure they meet building requirements to hopefully avoid damage from another devastating flood.

Myers experienced all the emotions. Five years later, she still feels all of the feelings those homeowners felt.

So she’ll drive past Youngs Creek in the rain, just to make sure that she’ll be ready in case even one more person has to go through losing everything to a flood.

For Myers, it was sunshine and nice weather on Saturday morning. She was out of town and only saw the flood on the TV news.

When she returned Sunday, she went to the old Franklin planning office to try find the books and information she’d need to start doing damage assessments throughout the city.

But the planning office had flooded, and her office and all the materials she needed were destroyed, just like the possessions of the many city residents she would soon meet.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources brought her new damage assessment manuals and paperwork and Myers set off on the daunting task of reviewing the exterior damage on every building touched by the flood. She visited every home and each business to see how high the water had risen and what kind of damage it had caused for the buildings.

“It was incredible the amount of sludge that came in with the water and how the houses were left and the properties were left. Everything was just covered. It was pretty gross,” she said.

“Seeing everybody’s memories covered with yuckiness. It kind of makes you sad.”

She saw residents gripped by sadness. There was frustration when she had to tell people that if they wanted to rebuild their homes, they couldn’t do it the same way.

But in those first few days, most people soldiered forward, picking through the mess in order to salvage what they could.

“It kind of shows how Franklin residents are able to just suck it up and do what they need to do and get their lives back in order, and I think that’s something we should be proud of,” Myers said.

After the flood, Myers was working out of a temporary office downtown in what is now city hall, with donated furniture and equipment.

Residents who came in to talk or ask questions saw the cobbled-together office, and they saw that she, too, was picking up the pieces and trying to move forward. Like many residents who lost their homes, the planning department never moved back into its old office.

“That did help them feel a little more comfortable because we were just as chaotic in our life as they were,” Myers said.

After the initial damage, the city began the long process of working with the federal government to start a buyout program. Myers led the city’s effort to get the buyout for homeowners.

The checks would allow the city to buy a home for its pre-flood value and then demolish it. By clearing out the homes, the city could remove the threat of future flooding by making sure no one lived there.

Residents would be able to find a new place to live with the check to payoff the mortgage on the building they could no longer call home.

More than 75 homeowners between U.S. 31 and Home Avenue south of downtown were interested in the buyout, because the damage was so severe and the costs to rebuild and elevate their homes were too high. Homes in that area were under 4 to 8 feet of water and damage in most cases totaled more than half of the value.

Many of the homeowners had flood insurance after the city’s flood map was updated in 2007. But the houses were below the minimum height required in a floodplain, so anyone that wanted to rebuild would have had to raise their land 2 feet above the flood plain in order to rebuild.

In several cases, raising the foundation and rebuilding in the same place would have cost about double what the house was originally worth.

“It’s hard when you lose your home and your belongings and then you have the city coming in and telling you you just can’t fix your house the way it sits now. We did have a couple people very upset with that,” she said.

Residents were going through some of the hardest times after losing their homes, but Myers was always available to help, former Dunn Street resident Bobby Seng said. While going through the process to get a buyout check for his former home, Myers could answer every question as if she’d been working with disasters her entire career, he said.

“She bent over backwards in more ways than one to help people. You could call her even if she wasn’t in her office, on her personal time, if you had an issue, and she’d make an effort to get back with you,” Seng said.

The buyout process put Myers in touch with so many residents who still say hello when they see her at the store or around town. Even today she can recall everyone’s name and the problems with their particular house, she said.

Many communities hire a consultant to work with residents following a disaster, but having Myers available daily to help homeowners allowed them to get more immediate attention and make a difficult time easier, Franklin community development director Krista Linke said.

“I think for Franklin that was definitely a benefit for that personal contact here. There was probably more time and attention paid than hiring a consultant who isn’t here dealing with the questions on a day-to-day basis,” Linke said.

Myers is not from Franklin. But going through the flood with the residents has made Franklin feel like her city and her people, she said.

“Having worked with all of them and seeing them go through the emotions they had because I would have them in my office, I kind of feel them myself and I just don’t want to see anybody go through that again,” Myers said.

5 years later

Name

Joanna Myers

Work

Franklin senior planner

What happened to her

As Franklin’s senior planner and floodplain administrator, Myers was responsible for doing damage assessments of every building affected by the flood. That meant going to every building that had water damage from the flood. She also led the city’s flood buyout program, working with residents who wanted to take federal disaster relief money in exchange for their damaged homes.

Where she is now

Myers still works for the city, which has since moved the planning office from its former location that was damaged in the flood.

How the flood changed her

She met hundreds of city residents while assessing damage and through the buyout. She said going through the flood and helping those people made her feel like Franklin was her home. But Myers said heavy rain still makes her nervous, because she doesn’t want to see anyone have to go through losing their home and belongings again.

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