On a recent Saturday afternoon, Ya’el Colquitt sat in a padded chair placed amid a collection of cleaning supplies, furniture, boxes, clothing and the rest of her household’s post-flood belongings in a small apartment at Elite at the Mountain in Stone Mountain. She and her family had been there three weeks, and unpacking, at that point, was relatively pointless.
The Colquitts are moving again, and they’re getting as far away from the memory of last month’s flooding as possible.
“Don’t sit around and wait for the [government] when you’re in universal distress,” she said as her 12-year-old grandson, Daniel Smith-Colquitt, listened to music on his computer. “You got to do it yourself.”
It’s a personal maxim the Colquitts learned the hard way last month. Their apartment was flooded not unlike hundreds of other homes in DeKalb County when torrential rains began on Sept. 18, and river beds swelled with disastrous results. The water rattled many county households, and the Colquitts aren’t special in that respect or an extreme example. They’re just another family struggling to repair the damage and recover some sense of normalcy lost to the flooding.
“We’ll keep working at it. Six months,” Ya’el said. “I’m starting to sleep better at night. I try not to freak out when it starts raining.”
The Colquitts’ problems began shortly after the rain did. It had been raining hard for at least two days, when, in the middle of the night, Ya’el’s husband, Joe Colquitt, woke up. He had fallen asleep on the floor, and woke up because he felt cold, Ya’el Colquitt said. He discovered he was in lying in a pool of water – a problem of particular importance for Joe. He is disabled due to a poor heart and wears a monitor that could electrocute him if it gets soaked.
From upstairs, Ya’el said she could hear him yelling.
“The last time I heard him sound in such distress was when he had heart trouble,” Ya’el said.
Water continued to rise Saturday until several inches of water had flooded the Colquitts’ first floor. Furniture was soaked. Possessions were destroyed. A cage holding several exotic birds had nearly tipped over. The car out front was submerged in water.
People in the apartments around them were leaving. No one from the complex was reachable, Ya’el said. So, the Colquitts began the hard work of recovering themselves. As the water receded over the next two days, the dragged their wet belongings onto the front lawn, and stayed inside with soggy carpeting and wet drywalling.
Then things got worse, Ya’el said. Random people – people Ya’el didn’t recognize – began walking into vacant apartments, stealing items from people who had left after the flooding. A recovery group offered the Colquitts a spot on a church floor with no cots, and they declined. Ya’el and several neighbors decided they would stay.
“They’re supposed to have security on the grounds,” she said. “They didn’t have any security that day.”
Representatives from the apartment complex could not be reached for comment.
At night, Ya’el and her husband took turns keeping watch. They left the doors and the windows open to aerate the room and keep the mold from growing.
“It was very depressing,” she said.
Then groups like the Red Cross began showing up – and they were less of a help than Ya’el anticipated. After the health department decided their home was untenable, the Red Cross arrived with a bundle of cleaning products: bleach, sponges and so forth. Enough for years, Ya’el said. Food and clean water were other issues. Much of the food had been ruined, and although several recovery groups promised food and other assistance the Colquitts found the help to be inadequate.
During the days, the Colquitts repeatedly scrubbed their apartment with bleach, tore up carpet and tried to eliminate the mold problem.
Then they were moved to another apartment where they live now. The ceiling is water damaged, and there’s a huge hole in a wall near the kitchen, but the apartment complex said they had to take it or leave it. The Colquitt’s are taking it – for now.
Ya’el said she works for a pharmacy in Atlanta, and her family has been able to make it through with the help of friends and co-workers who donated clothing, clean linens and food. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently gave the family $2,600, which has also helped, she said.
“That’s how we’ve been able to recover–[help from] people who care about us,” she said.
It’s an important lesson, she said, after such an ordeal: “Have your own back-up plan.”