On a warm Sunday afternoon earlier this month, golden sunlight cast an illusion of dryness over the Regency II Mobile Home Park in the south part of Fremont, where nearly a month ago, Platte River water rushed against mobile homes, shifting foundations, destroying possessions and seeping into carpets for dozens of residents, many of whom are Hispanic.
One need only step into the backyard of Juana Batz to feel that, despite the sunny day, the flood was still very much alive in the Regency community. During a visit in early April, nearly a month after the historic floods wreaked havoc across eastern Nebraska, a step onto her waterlogged, muddy backyard felt like quicksand. Beneath her trailer, pools of water were still drying out. At the height of the floods, water had entered through her bathroom, destroying a carpet and other belongings. And while the inside was now dry, near the rear of her home, beneath the trailer, part of her floor appeared to be sinking.
Batz is still figuring out how to fix it all, including replacing the skirting that normally lines the outside of the trailer, which residents were told to remove to allow the water to dry out and prevent mold growth.
It’s a common story for many Hispanic residents in Regency, who have faced unique challenges during the flood recovery process.
Many who come from Guatemala, like Batz, speak neither English nor Spanish as their first language, but a localized dialect of Spanish known as K’iche’. That’s made it difficult to keep up with complicated recovery information from officials, even information translated into Spanish.
And others are worried about the financial burden of repairs, particularly replacing the skirting alongside the bottom of their mobile homes. Several in the Regency community told the Tribune through a translator that they’ve received little support from the Regency Mobile Home Park management or ownership.
Translation challengesAfter the flooding, 55 homes within the Regency Mobile Home Park received red tags, meaning that they were unsafe to enter, according to City Administrator Brian Newton. Regency accounted for nearly 20 percent of all the red tags given out across the city.
All but one of those homes have since been downgraded to yellow or green tags — a process that only took about three days, once the electric services were turned back on Newton said. A green tag signals that the home is safe to re-enter. A yellow tag signals that a home is safe to live in, but acknowledges that there’s still damage that needs to be addressed, Newton said.
But Newton acknowledged that there had been some initial confusion about the tags for many in the Regency community, with many unclear that the yellow-tagged homes were safe to enter.
“We didn’t hear this until three weeks into it that people with yellow tags in Regency weren’t going back to their home,” Newton said.
Once that information was made clear, many left the shelters in town to return to their homes, Newton said.
Newton said that it was possible that translation issues could have contributed to the confusion about the yellow tags. He argues that the city and the various organizations assisting flood victims have had Spanish translation services, including through a Spanish-language meeting at Washington Elementary School that was standing-room only. But he acknowledges that nobody recognized the need for a K’iche’ translator until much later.
“We had translators and we had it out in Spanish, but maybe that didn’t do them any good,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been offering assistance to individuals affected by the flood, has also recognized the need for K’iche’ translation.
FEMA External Affairs Officer Darrell Habisch told the Tribune on Friday that the agency has requested that the government provide a K’iche’ translator. If that should fall through, Habisch said, the agency is prepared to work with community leaders to address translation needs.
According to Sayra Garcia, a translator and office assistant with Fremont High School who also took damage in her Regency home, the biggest need for the community is to ensure that everyone is getting the same information. Otherwise, rumors spread, and some become fearful of seeking help.
“They hear one thing from one person, something from a different person,” Garcia said.
Assessing the damage, getting help
Some, like Regency resident Maria Garcia, still felt uneasy about returning to their properties, even after learning that they could enter their yellow-tagged houses.
Garcia, a single mother of three, had stayed at emergency shelters for several weeks before returning home. Through a Spanish translator, she told the Tribune that she came home to find that her washing machine had been damaged. Some of her children’s beds had taken on moisture and needed to be removed. The carpet was also wet, and she says the wet environment has been triggering asthma attacks in one of her daughters. But she says she’s on her own, doesn’t have the money to stay elsewhere, and has been struggling to figure out how to begin the clean up process.
Batz, meanwhile, is the only one in her household working, and is balancing financial support for her family at home, the potential cost of repairing the skirting around her trailer, and sending money back to Guatemala to support family abroad.
Several Regency residents told the Tribune that they were hoping that the Regency management office would not charge rent for the month of March, given the damage to trailers and that many residents were staying in shelters or hotels for large portions of the month. But that was not the case.
Multiple residents, such as Batz and Irma Calderon, whose house had also received a yellow tag, say they asked the Regency Mobile Home Community management office for help. But they say they were informed that individual trailer owners will be responsible for their own repairs, including replacing the skirting around the bottoms of their trailers.
Reached by phone on Friday, a representative from the park’s management office declined an interview request. But a letter obtained by the Tribune, sent out to residents from the park owner, Regency MHC, LLC, explains that the “the Park does not own your homes and does not carry insurance on your homes.”
“The Park maintains the land only and will be unable to participate in the costs of repairing your privately owned homes,” the letter reads.
The letter also explains that while residents have additional expenses due to the flood, “the Park does as well,” including paying for repairs to the sewer and electrical system.
“There will be no changes in rent due as a result of the flood,” the letter reads. “Please make your regular payments in full and on time.”
Individual assistance for homeowners is available through agencies like FEMA. But for some, that’s not an option.
Angel Magana, who lives in a house outside of Regency by Washington Elementary School, is in the United States on a work permit. After water filled his basement, reaching the first floor, ruining carpet and leaving him with a yellow tag, he met with FEMA representatives, he said. But he learned that his work permit would not be enough to qualify him for assistance.
In an email, FEMA spokesperson Robert Howard confirmed that those on tourist visas, student visas, work visas and temporary resident cards are unable to receive FEMA assistance through its “Individuals and Households Program.”
He added however that a parent of a child who is a citizen can apply to FEMA relief on behalf of the child, and that no information will be gathered on the adult’s status. All individuals, regardless of status, can receive short-term emergency disaster relief — search and rescue, medical care, shelter, food and water. And many communities have local, state and voluntary agencies that can assist undocumented immigrants.