Ivory Brown revisits her Horton Ave. home.  (Mar. 30, 2011)

Ivory Brown revisits her Horton Ave. home. (Mar. 30, 2011) Credit: Randee Daddona

A year ago, when a week of record rainfall dumped 80 billion gallons of water on Nassau and Suffolk, residents of Horton Avenue in Riverhead stopped measuring the rain in inches and started measuring it by the number of homes swallowed up by a newly formed lake spreading from what had been a neighborhood playground.

Eventually, more than a dozen houses were flooded so badly they became uninhabitable. Officials from every level of government -- from town to county to federal -- came to Horton Avenue and promised to do all they could to help.

But not much has happened in the months since.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) wrote letters to President Barack Obama in 2010 and officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requesting expedited aid for the area. Bishop got the federal government to treat two separate storm events as one storm, allowing the town to qualify for aid.

Still, it is becoming increasingly clear from the responses of town officials that any help that does eventually come to Horton Avenue will likely go toward solving the flooding problems and will be of little help to the homeowners who once lived there or who are still struggling to maintain their houses.

The town programs involve improving drainage and getting reimbursement for costs that were incurred from dealing with the flooding, but do not directly involve getting money for the homeowners.

Town and county officials say the last, best hope for the remaining Horton Avenue families -- all of the renters have since moved on -- is for federal funds to become available to pay for condemning the houses, which would allow the homeowners to move somewhere else, even as officials say there are few undeveloped parcels in Riverhead where housing can be built at a low enough price for the block's families to purchase them.

Town, county and federal officials expect a final decision in about four weeks on whether the funds will become available.

In the beginning, there was hope on Horton Avenue that the flooded basements would be pumped out, the damaged appliances replaced, and life could somehow get back to normal. And, on a street where many of the families were related by birth or marriage, there was hope the community would stick together.

"We don't want to break up the neighborhood. We've been together all our lives," said Joyce Anderson, 49, as she stood last week in the doorway of her house at 177 Horton Ave.

There is still mold in her basement, even though she washed the walls with bleach four times. She only goes down to do the laundry.

And, since she has custody of two young nieces and a nephew, she said she worries about having to find a new house big enough for them all.

"This is a three-bedroom house, and it's paid for. To start all over again. . . . I don't want a mortgage," said Anderson, who has lived there all her life.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he hopes that FEMA funds will trickle down to his town, and that the money can be used to condemn the ruined houses, allowing the families to move elsewhere.

Possible solutions

 

Among the plans being considered for Horton Avenue:

FEMA COULD DECLARE residents victims of a natural disaster.

Pro: Residents would be reimbursed for the value of their houses.

Con: Reimbursement would be for only the pre-flood value of the property.

RESIDENTS COULD BE RELOCATED and added to a countywide waiting list for land usually taken for nonpayment of taxes.

Pro: Residents will be in areas not prone to extensive flooding.

Con: Military veterans, the disabled and other special groups get priority in awarding these sites. The process also can take years.

WORK WITH A NONPROFIT GROUP that could build new homes.

Pro: Residents would be relocated out of the Horton Avenue flood zone.

Con: Existing homes would have to be condemned first in an expensive and time-consuming effort.

-- MITCHELL FREEDMAN

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