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“Nothing is normal” as Sanford residents rebuild after a devastating flood

Ben Thorp
Penny Tyler outside the trailer that is now her home

Nearly two months after a dam break and devastating flood buried the village of Sanford in water and mud, residents are doing their best to rebuild.

The streets are no longer covered in muck leftover from when the Sanford Lake emptied itself over the town. Instead, you can hear the sound of construction and the hum of generators.

Roger and Pam Riggie are the owners of Sanford Pizza. Standing outside their pizzeria, Pam peered through a broken window and described what she saw.

“Disaster and heartbreak,” she said. “But progress all at the same time.”

Pam and Roger Riggie

Roger and Pam don’t own the building where their pizza shop was based. Roger said they don’t know what kind of assistance they - or their landlord - will be getting from the federal government to help rebuild.

“It’s just a waiting game. They’ve got all the money, they’ve got all the power. You just go through all the crap they try to put you through. The sooner the better. I’m going crazy without having someplace to go every day. The yard is looking good though.”

The state has estimated the flooding caused roughly $190-million in losses for residents across five counties, but only 14% of households had any kind of flood insurance.

Last week, President Trump approved a disaster declaration, which will give residents access to grants and low-cost loans. According to a FEMA representative, 129 households have received $1.5 million since Friday.

FEMA spokesman Mike Wade said the assistance pays to ensure people have a safe, temporary place to 

Dumpster outside of CJ's Hairstyling


“We pay for minimal repairs to make the home safe, sanitary, and secure. We can’t make them whole.”

Businesses are able to apply for loans from the Small Business Administration after registering with FEMA. Disaster loans are available for up to $2 million. Homeowners are also able to apply for disaster loans under the Small Business Administration for up to $240,000. So far, the Administration has received 115 applications.

Penny Tyler is a 58-year old Sanford resident whose home was destroyed in the flood. She said the house had been in the family for 55-years.

“I lost everything. It looked like everything had been in a washing machine. Covers were off the walls, the refrigerator was laying across the organ. It was a mess in there.”

Penny Tyler

Tyler is currently living in a camper on her property. Last week her home was bulldozed and, in a surprise announcement in front of reporters, a local building contractor told Tyler they would build her a new house free of charge.

“This just doesn’t happen right? I was like are you kidding me. I just started crying.”

But, Tyler said, there are a lot of people who won’t be getting free homes.

“Nothing is normal here. We still need a lot of help. There are a lot of people still living in their houses because they have nowhere to go and the houses need a lot of work.”

Down the road from Tyler, the owner of CJ’s Hairstyling is working on rebuilding her store.

Two months ago Connie Methner said she didn’t think her building would be salvageable. Now she said between a GoFundMe campaign and personal savings she has enough for some repairs.

Connie Methner

“I don’t have all the money yet. I don’t have enough money for equipment,” she said. “There is a lot of promises of money coming but talk is cheap. It doesn’t pay the bills. I don’t know. We might just go as far as we can go and then hopefully the people who promised to help us will come through.”

Methner, like the Riggies, is hoping some federal funding will help her get the store back up and running. In the meantime...

“As my social security comes in we pay a bill and hopefully have a little leftover. It’s rough. Very rough.”

Pam and Roger Riggie, back outside their Pizzaria, said they hope to have the store back up and running by Christmas Day so they can host their annual Christmas feast.

“Every Christmas we’re here. It’s five families. So even if we have to rent a haul or something I don’t know we have to do something for Christmas. That’s a must.”

In the meantime though, for the Riggies, as for much of Sanford, they will be waiting to see what kind of help is coming their way.