The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

A generous flood victim: Mary Dickinson lets a reporter go back in with her

In Floods on June 17, 2008 at 3:50 am

The most heartbreaking stories are yet to come.

Even so, there was still plenty to cry about Sunday, under sunny, blue skies, and Mary Dickinson was doing just that outside her house at 1709 10th St. NW.

Dickinson, 43, a controller at the Cottage Grove Place retirement community, was in the early groups of residents who negotiated security checkpoints Sunday in what authorities are calling a careful process to get people safely back to their homes to see what the flood did to them.

Those back into the neighborhoods first are those whose houses are at the edge of the flood where the water has done the least damage and has receded the most. Dickinson’s place, built in 1957, is among a stretch of homes beyond the old Time Check Neighborhood, outside the 100-year flood plain, and in her case, on the edge of the area where a flood is supposed to have one chance in 500 in a given year of hitting.

On Sunday, she took her time before looking inside her house, standing in the driveway crying about the flood line a few feet up on the front, with the fear of what she would find inside.

In first went daughter and son-in-law, Sandy and Tim Skaar. Home-improvement regulars, the Skaars emerged with a positive assessment.

“This is fixable,” Tim Skaar said. “There will be a lot of ripping and tearing out. But we can definitely work with this.”

Some mix of flood water and sewer backup had filled Mary Dickinson’s basement to the top and now remained about 18 inches deep. After venturing down there, Sandy Skaar said it was like a trip into the sewers in the movie, “Alien.”

“Yuck. It’s pretty raunchy, Mom,” she said. Tim Skaar said you could taste the muck.

Dickinson and her family saved much of what was inside the house by working hard even before anyone knew the flood would get to her. They moved more valuable items from the basement and placed furniture and other items up off the first-floor.

Even so, she lost her furnace, hot water heater, some furniture and other items in the basement, part of which is finished and will need rebuilt.

Water also climbed into the main floor, ruining the carpet there, the bottom of the dry wall and some keepsakes. Her Bible from her First Communion was still dry.

Dickinson is on task: She has made her first call to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday, and Sunday afternoon met with a FEMA representative in person in the neighborhood.

FEMA will inspect when the basement is pumped, she said she was told.

If Mary’s experience to date means anything, FEMA learned from Katrina.

After about an hour look-see, Dickinson and her family left the house for now. But the Skaars and the rest of the family are right there for her.

“I thought my home was my accomplishment. It’s not. It’s my kids,” said Dickinson, a single mom who worked her way through college and on to home ownership.



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