The Wagners’ mobile home was one of 285 houses destroyed by tornadoes on April 27, 2011. Daniel, 84, and Geri, 80, bought the 1969 model home and placed it on a hill overlooking Bell Road in 1984. It was a beautiful and peaceful setting. It was their home. It was paid for and they were able to survive month to month on their fixed Social Security income.
The new home is a collaborative effort between the Long-Term Recovery Organization and many partners. Bradley Baptist Association was the lead cooperative builder. Cleveland State Community College, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Caldwell Paving and the Salvation Army have all been partners, according to LTRO Case Manager Supervisor Lisa Mantooth.
The dedication will take place at 3 p.m. Friday at 135 Bent Oak Trail S.E.
The LTRO was established through the city and county Mayors’ Coalition after government, civic and spiritual leaders began looking for long-range solutions to rebuild Bradley County and help people who suffered major storm damage or total loss.
Daniel Wagner, 84, described being the recipient of the new home as a moving experience.
“This is the first time I have ever seen so many work so hard on behalf of a few and it’s deeply appreciated,” he said. “It’s miraculous what they’ve done in so short a time. Sometimes I lay awake at night trying to think of words to say, but there are no words to express our appreciation. But it doesn’t matter, because whatever I can say comes from the heart.”
The tornadic weather that blew through so quickly marked the approach of a slow-moving bureaucratic front that seemed to stall over the elderly couple. Because of the manufacture date, the mobile home was uninsurable before the storm. After the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid only $16,000 to repair the damage. But, the structure was not repairable after strong winds blew out the entire north wall.
Tammy Riden, the Wagners’ granddaughter, said issues with FEMA began about five days after the storms passed. The wall was put back in place, mainly to secure it against looters. The frame was bent, the air-conditioning unit was full of water and the roof was sagging. Also, three outbuildings filled with the kinds of items people collect over a lifetime were destroyed.
By the time damage assessment teams from the Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency arrived to do a “windshield inspection,” the wall had been pushed back into place, though it was by no means secure, and the trailer house was assessed as “damaged.”
When FEMA arrived about five days later, the wall was up. The inspector didn’t list much damage in her report and did not seem to care about looking at more than 100 pictures Riden took to document the true damage to the home. A lifetime of belongings that were only days earlier stored in the three demolished outbuildings were crammed into a portable storage unit costing the family $200 a month. The family is still trying to get reimbursed for that expense.
She said the FEMA inspector did not look at structural damage under the home or the flooded air-conditioning unit, and neither did the inspector look at the roof.
FEMA awarded the Wagners $16,000 to repair the home. The award was dated May 7, and received May 10. But, the home could not be repaired and the money could not be used toward purchasing a new home.
Riden is secretary to the senior legal counsel for Life Care Centers of America. In her position, she is accustomed to legal correspondence, so she began the process of helping her grandparents file claims with FEMA. Because her grandfather cannot write due to severe arthritis and his right hand was crippled in an air-conditioner explosion and, due to age, he cannot hear very well, he gave Riden authority to act on his behalf.
Riden wrote a letter appealing the status and it was changed from repairable to demolished so her grandparents could have a new home. FEMA said it never got the letter, so Riden resubmitted the appeal. She also emailed several photos to FEMA detailing the extent of the damage, but the agency did not accept email or U.S. Postal Service mail — the photos had to be faxed.
The appeal was denied because it had to be from her grandfather in his own words. She resubmitted the appeal in her grandfather’s name and with only one contractor’s evaluation of the home. The appeal was again rejected and the length of time to file another appeal was reduced from 60 to 14 days. FEMA rejected the request for money for the storage unit.
FEMA also rejected the request for medical expenses not paid by insurance when her aunt, who suffers from COPD, was taken to the hospital.
Riden said FEMA bullied her grandparents into applying for an SBA loan. They were approved for a $99,000 loan they could not repay on their fixed income.
Riden said the stress has strained her grandparents. Doctors believe her grandfather had a mini-stroke in September.
“He’s lost a lot of weight,” she said. “He was driving and his face went numb.”
The Wagners are ambulatory though Riden’s 80-year-old grandmother uses a walker and the Wagners have lived with their great-granddaughter Haley Heier, her husband, Mark, and great-great-grandson, Boston, who is 3 1/2 years old.
“Grandmother fell on the stairs,” Riden said. “It has been hard on them trying to get up and down the stairs. They are still trying to get the medical bills paid for my aunt.
“If you ask my grandfather what the best thing is about this whole experience, he’ll tell you he got to have time with his great-great-grandson,” Riden said. “It’s really going to bother Boston when they leave.”