The hardest part of Teresa Tosh’s job is telling disaster victims they can’t fix their property just yet. Or they’re going to have to wait to turn their power back on.
“They are just frustrated,” Tosh told the Tulsa World Friday. “They want their power on so they can run a fan, so they can run an ice box.”
They want their lives back.
But as Tulsa County’s building inspections director and floodplain administrator, it falls on Tosh and her staff to ensure that people trying to rebuild their homes — and their lives — after a disaster like last week’s flooding don’t create more problems for themselves by failing to follow proper procedures.
As part of that effort, Tosh joined about a dozen other volunteers Friday morning in the Town and Country addition west of Sand Springs to do substantial damage assessments. The reports are required as part of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
And they are integral to property owners hoping to rebuild after storms.
Here’s how it works: If the estimated damage caused to a structure by last week’s flooding is 50% or greater than the structure’s fair market value, the structure is considered substantially damaged.
If the estimated damage caused to a structure by the flooding is 50% or less than the structure’s fair market value, the structure is not considered substantially damaged.
Tosh, in her role as county building inspections director — with jurisdiction over unincorporated areas like Town and Country — uses the information to determine whether she can issue a building permit.
If the home is not substantially damaged, a building permit can be issued to rebuild the home as it was.
The process is more complicated if the structure is found to be substantially damaged.
“Take Town and Country, if they are in a 100(-year) flood zone, and their house has become substantially damaged, then not only does the International Building Code say we have to apply current code,” Tosh said, “but FEMA says that you can’t build back unless you meet the base flood elevation. And then we (the county) have the (additional requirement of) two feet of free board.”
At the first home Tosh and fellow volunteer Bill Smith visited Friday morning, a brown water line 66 inches off the ground circled the brick facade. Inside, the water line was almost 47 inches high, or about halfway up where walls once stood.
“We were in the flood of ’86,” said John Patterson, 70, who built the home four decades ago. “We thought they (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) had it under control, and that is the only reason we’re still here.
“We didn’t want to give up what equity we have in it, so we stayed. It’s absolutely sickening.”
Patterson said he and his wife, Paula, had some flood insurance, but not enough to cover all of their losses.
“We were going to travel a lot,” Patterson said. “Just got me a brand-new pickup truck and we were going to hit the road and see the country, but that’s all over.”
Friday’s assessment efforts were organized and conducted by the Oklahoma Flood Managers Association Disaster Response Team. Smith established the group in 2008, and since then it has responded to more than 30 emergencies.
“Most people don’t understand what this is all about, they really don’t,” he said. “It’s real important that they know that if they are in the special flood hazard area, they can buy flood insurance. If they are outside the special flood hazard area, they can buy flood insurance.”
But when it comes time to rebuild, Tosh can’t say it enough — wait until your property has been inspected and the proper permits issued.
And don’t dare have the power turned on.
To prove her point, she had Smith turn his pickup off 145th West Avenue on to a side street, where she patiently directed him to another home damaged by the flood.
But this one looked different. Worse. All that was left was a stone skeleton.
The owner, Tosh said, had his power turned on before having it inspected.
“It is so ironic that what I kept telling people is, you do not want your house to burn down, and now we have one that burned down.”
Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."