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Camelot Village was a hive of activity this week as owners, tenants and flooding recovery crews started ripping apart first-floor condos in nine flooded buildings.
The town found that 57 of 70 condos inspected had sheetrock or electrical damage, making them uninhabitable, Chapel Hill spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said. Other condos had damage to heating and air-conditioning units or appliances that will have to be repaired.
Orange County’s Department of Social Services opened a shelter in Hillsborough and is working with displaced residents, Lazorko said. The town is trying to determine what other help to provide, she added.
“I lost everything,” resident Priscilla Charlot said. “My whole life just crashed down.”
She found most of her belongings piled on the sidewalk Monday after returning to her condo on South Estes Drive for the first time in about a week. Every memory — her daughter’s childhood photos, an 18th-century couch and her grandfather’s paintings — was gone.
She’s staying with her mother and is afraid for the future, Charlot said.
Her medical issues make it important that she live close to the hospital, she said, and like some of her neighbors, she relies on federal Section 8 housing vouchers. Many of them also have health issues or are elderly, and they were unable to leave before the flood.
Chapel Hill police and the South Orange Rescue Square rescued about 40 people Monday from Camelot Village and four other complexes. By Monday morning, the floodwaters had reached 10.5 feet, equal to flood levels during a devastating 2013 flood.
Camelot Village is like a revolving door for people at the bottom in Chapel Hill, Charlot said. It’s affordable, convenient and a beautiful place to live, but when it rains, residents have to leave and struggle to find other housing, she said. More people move in, and the cycle repeats itself.
Few apartment complexes still accept Section 8 vouchers in Orange County.
“We are as a society how we treat the weakest link in our society,” Charlot said. “The weakest link is disabled people, hardworking, middle class, poor people, who come home to see their homes destroyed and the cars that they go to work in every day floating.”
By Tuesday, crews had piled muddy, waterlogged furnishings, kitchen cabinets and appliances along the sidewalks, covering them with tarps until residents could sort through their belongings. Inside, mud up to an inch thick coated the carpets. Every step pushed water and air bubbles to the surface.
“There were very few people that had anything sitting up high enough” to avoid being flooded. said Red Howard, owner of 1-800 Water Damage. The storm dumped more than 6 inches of rain on Chapel Hill between Sunday and Monday, bringing the three-day total to nearly 9 inches.
Crews will remove the carpet and at least the bottom 4 feet of drywall next, Howard said. That could take about four days. They’ll let the timbers dry for another three to five days once each unit is down to the wall studs and concrete, he said.
Camelot Village property manager Joel Duvall moved swiftly from one end of the complex to the other Tuesday, negotiating trash pickup with the town, making sure residents had the help they needed, and keeping track of multiple crews working at the site.
A town inspector and a Federal Emergency Management Agency adjuster also were there to inspect the damage, he said. FEMA last raised the HOA’s flood insurance premium by about 68 percent, said Greg Brusseau, a member of the Camelot Village Homeowners Association board of directors.
That cost has been passed on to owners, who now pay $215 a month in dues, and to the tenants, he said.
Camelot Village was built in 1967, years before there were flood maps and rules. The entire complex sits in a bowl — the floodway — between two floodplains, and has flooded repeatedly since then. Roughly 10 square miles drains into that part of Bolin Creek.
The June 2013 flood damaged 72 of 116 condos, forcing residents to evacuate and many to move away. Afterward, the town worked with the complex to find a solution, but every idea either was unworkable or had the potential to increase flooding downstream.
The town contacted FEMA more than once about buying out the complex, but officials have not been able to strike a deal with condo owners, many of whom do not live there. They almost reached an agreement in 2016 but missed the application deadline.
The town could use eminent domain to buy the floodprone condos, but federal money won’t help pay for that.
Shari and Kirk Hasenmueller were among those who agreed to sell to FEMA. The Virginia couple bought their weekend condo three months before the 2013 flood and spent six months recovering from the damage.
On Monday, they drove to Chapel Hill after seeing severe flood warnings on the news. They returned Tuesday after dropping off their children at school. The floodwaters came in through the air-conditioning unit Monday, filling the condo with 3 feet of water, they said.
They found some of their belongings on the sidewalk Tuesday, some of which they said were not damaged in the flood. Some of their jewelry and medicines also appeared to be missing, Shari Hasenmueller said. She later flagged down a police officer in the parking lot Tuesday to ask about filing a theft report.
It’s not clear how much longer they will keep the condo, Shari Hasenmueller said. They do like the location, she said, but it’s been a rough five years and the crime has increased.
“If it was just the floodwater, we could deal with that, but the whole five years …,” Shari Hasenmueller said.
“Every Saturday night, the police are here,” Kirk Hasenmueller said, finishing her sentence.
Questions about flooding
Residents had more than a few questions Tuesday about how town and Camelot Village officials handled this week’s flood. Many had evacuated to local shelters before Hurricane Florence made landfall. Those shelters closed Sunday, and many returned home.
Brusseau, the Homeowners Association board member, said they tried to be proactive ahead of the hurricane, voting to spend up to $10,000 on sandbags and plastic sheeting that they wrapped around the air-conditioning units, doors and buildings.
But on Sunday, they heard the local shelters were closing and thought the rain was slowing, Brusseau said. Some residents already had started to return, and others were asking if they also could come back. They removed the plastic sheeting and sandbags, he said.
Around midnight, the rain started to fall again. Within a few hours, it was a downpour, and the creek swiftly crested its banks, filling much of the complex with up to 4 feet of muddy water.
“You base your decisions on the best information you have at that time,” Brusseau said. They will try again to use the sheeting and sandbags against the next flood, he said.
Howard, however, said the sandbags and sheeting still might have not stopped Monday’s floodwaters.
‘Cut my losses’
Chapel Hill native Ricko Diggins said he learned about the flooding when someone knocked on his door at 7 a.m. Monday. They told him to move his car, he said, but didn’t say the floodwaters soon would be at his door.
Although his furniture was insured, Diggins said he lost all his shoes and coats. He had only been in his apartment since June, he said, and now is staying with his brother until he figures out his next move.
“After this, I’m just probably going to cut my losses and get my money back from here and find someplace else,” Diggins said.
It’s getting more expensive for lower-income people to live at Camelot Village, where the rent averages $675 to $700 a month, including water and sewer, Brusseau said.
About a third of Camelot Village’s residents are living paycheck to paycheck or subsisting on federal housing vouchers, he said. They are talking with the town and other local agencies to see whether there’s a possibility for a public-private partnership.
Something needs to be done, said Augustin Garcia, who was living at his Camelot Village condo when it flooded in 2013. About three weeks ago, he rented his condo to someone else.
The new tenants had just started to move in when he told them to wait because the storm was coming. He helped them put their belongings above the flood level, he said.
On Monday, as he left work at UNC Hospitals, Garcia saw the water rising on Franklin Street.
“That’s when I knew it was going to flood,” he said. “So, I drove here immediately, and that’s when it started flooding.”
His own car almost got caught in the floodwaters, but he was able to get his tenants, who were still asleep, out of the condo. He returned with friends Tuesday to remove waterlogged appliances and furnishings. His tenants are staying with their parents, he said.
This flood was just as bad as the one in 2013, he said.
“These places, they should condemn them. People shouldn’t be allowed to live here,” Garcia said.
How to help
The nonprofit FRIENDS of Orange County DSS is raising money to provide nonperishable food, temporary lodging, replacement beds and personal items — glasses, medications, bedding, clothing, school supplies, medical equipment, and more — and deposits and rent for long-term housing.
Money raised through Oct. 15 will directly help Orange County flood victims.