Flooding forces Chapel Hill, Carrboro residents to start over

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJuly 6, 2013 

— Camelot Village, Booker Creek and Rocky Brook Mobile Home Park are cheap places to live in southern Orange County.

Most people live there because they can’t afford anything else. Others have federal housing assistance, which limits them to the dwindling number of places that take vouchers.

At Rocky Brook, in Carrboro, the neighbors are passionate about improving their lot in life. They plant gardens and repair rickety rentals.

Ruben Enriquez, his wife Mario Cano, and their two sons and two daughters have lived in their three-bedroom trailer for four years. Enriquez, a painter by trade, hoped to buy their trailer one day. Cano, a homemaker, works tirelessly in the garden that helps feed her family.

They weren’t here for the last flood in 2008. After last weekend’s flooding forced them to evacuate, they’re not sure they want to be there the next time.

Monica Enriquez-Cano, a rising junior at Carrboro High School, said the first sign of trouble Sunday afternoon was pipes rattling under the trailer as they watched TV. She heard the dogs barking and went to see what was wrong. The rising water was everywhere, she said.

Her parents sent them to higher ground. Her mother tried to save their chickens but only found one floating dead in the water. They learned later that three made it to the Orange County Animal Shelter. They hope to get them back, but the chicken coop is ruined.

“They (her parents) were scared, but they’re really happy that nothing happened to us,” she said. “They were really sad (to lose) all the furniture and stuff, but they said, it’s only material.”

Twenty of the 25 trailers were evacuated that night. Residents returned Tuesday to find condemnation notices on their doors and a soggy mess inside.

The Enriquez-Canos family was lucky; they may have the option of going home again. But they will have to replace furniture ruined when the roof leaked. The garden was smashed.

“She was working really hard and now (the plants are) destroyed. These trees right here by the trailer, my brother, he was eating a peach and he planted that, and it grew,” Enriquez-Cano said. “(My mother) grew peppers and tomatoes and broccoli. All the trash is on top of it.”

Nearly everything

Salvador Bonilla and his wife Miriam Pajata fared much worse.

For 11 years, they’ve lived at the bottom of the community, where the rainwater collects. Their trailer is more than 6 feet off the ground. Last week, the water inside was 4 feet high. The wood floor Bonilla has been installing for months bounces as he walked across it.

Bonilla, who works at Tom Robinson Seafood in Carrboro, said they had renter’s insurance, but they lost nearly everything and won’t be coming back. They’ll live with friends until they find a new home.

The story was much the same among the few remaining renters Wednesday at Camelot Village Apartments in Chapel Hill. Inspectors condemned 68 of the complex’s 116 apartments, and most were gone by the time work crews descended on the soggy, smelly remains. A few miles away at Booker Creek, another 22 apartments were condemned.

Randy Simmons, a chef at Kappa Delta sorority, said he would sleep on friends’ couches and visit his mother in Florida while getting back on his feet. He tried in vain last week to save his Cameron Village home of eight years, quickly removing the carpets and padding when the 4-foot-deep floodwaters receded. He watched as neighbors left almost everything behind, selling flooded cars for nearly nothing.

“I knew it was a possibility. That’s why the rent’s cheap here,” he said.

‘A nice place’

Over by Building A, Jeff Lindberg and friends loaded clothing in his car. Lindberg returned June 30 from five months in Costa Rica but couldn’t go home until the next day.

“I feel sorry for everybody because most people here don’t have homeowners insurance. They can’t really afford it; that’s why they’re here in the first place,” he said. “It’s a nice place, they keep it up nice, and you’ve got the mall right across the street, the grocery store’s right across the street.”

But the retiree won’t be here next time. He’s decided to fly back to Costa Rica permanently for the “pura vida,” a phrase that translates to “pure life” but means more to Costa Ricans.

Caitlyn Wood and her family won’t be coming back either.

The 23-year-old single mother moved to Rocky Brook in February, and in April, she moved her ailing mother, her 18-year-old sister and her nephew into the trailer next door. She spent hundreds of dollars making it a safe place for her 2-year-old son to live, she said. A federal housing voucher pays Wood’s $495 monthly rent. Her mother pays her own rent.

With one working phone between them, they called everyone they could think of last week looking for a home. A Chapel View apartment for her mother looked promising for a while, she said. They put their belongings in storage for now.

Wood says the security deposit is all she will have to help them through the rough patches. She’s been trying to find work, but with health issues of her own, her mother’s care and the cost of child care, it’s been frustrating. After searching fruitlessly last week for packing boxes, she decided to use whatever she could find.

“I’m trying to stay focused, because I have nothing else. I’m ready to snap, and I think I’m trying to stay more strong for my mom and my sister and my kids than I am anything,” she said.

The few people who have stopped by with information and offers of help have been a silver lining, Wood said.

She was barely holding back the tears Tuesday when Carrboro resident Bill Ogonowski drove up. “Do you need boxes?” he asked, pointing to his overflowing back seat and trunk.

“Oh my God,” Wood said, the tears turning to laughter. “Oh, my goodness, I was just saying that I had been everywhere trying to look for boxes.”

“All yours,” he said, and helped her carry them into the trailer.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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