Darlene Rose Demi and her husband having been living in a 25-year-old camper with four dogs for two months.
The camper in the Rosewood neighborhood of Socastee is next to a double-wide mobile home with plywood walls, no interior rooms and exposed insulation. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the house safe to occupy.
Demi, 65, was asked to leave her home by law enforcement as the flooding Waccamaw River crept into her house during the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Their house isn’t in a flood zone and they don’t have flood insurance.
When she got back two months later, the water was gone and her house was full of mold.
FEMA gave Demi and her husband, 69-year-old Vietnam veteran James Demi, $22,700 to rebuild their lives after an inspector visited their home on Nov. 21. About $14,000 was allocated for home repairs. The rest was for two months of rental assistance, for replacing essential items lost in the flood and to help pay for a replacement car
After getting a $78,000 estimate for a complete repair of the couple’s double-wide mobile home, James and Darlene applied to FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program, which is designed to help people whose homes have been destroyed by disasters.
In Horry County, the program doled out more than $7 million to more than 1,700 applicants.
On Dec. 18, FEMA sent the couple a letter saying they were ineligible for assistance without giving a reason. They appealed, and on Dec. 27, received a letter stating:
“FEMA has determined you are not eligible for Housing Assistance because the damage caused by the disaster has not made your home unsafe to occupy.”
I live on social security and so does Darlene. We don’t make enough money to borrow any money. What are you gonna do?
The couple has since filed more appeals, but FEMA has never sent another inspector to look at the property.
Darlene, James and their dogs have been living in a 1993 Dutchman 37-foot by 8-foot camper on their property next to their empty house since late December.
“My husband has COPD and the toxic water and air is what made it impossible for us to come back for those two months [since the water went down],” Demi said.
A PODS portable container filled with the Demis’ belongings stand near the trailer.
“I put the money aside and bought the camper,” Darlene said. “I had to get repairs for my camper, I had to buy my POD. I know I wasn’t supposed to use the money for that but I wanted to live on my ground.”
James said buying a camper was cheaper than repairing their house.
“I live on social security and so does Darlene,” he said. “We don’t make enough money to borrow any money. What are you gonna do? It’s either that or the old folks’ home I guess.”
I put the money aside and bought the camper. I had to get repairs for my camper, I had to buy my POD. I know I wasn’t supposed to use the money for that but I wanted to live on my ground.
Darlene Rose Demi
Because the the couple couldn’t afford a complete repair, they had to hire a contractor only to take out the moldy walls and sheet rock and install a new sub-floor
FEMA could not comment on the specific nature of the Demi’s case, but FEMA representative Margaret Cottrill said some reasons for denial include claims for damage that did not occur to the applicants primary residence, unverified disaster-related losses or prior aid to another resident in the household.
The Demis had previously received aid from FEMA, but the agency’s communication with the couple only cited the amount of damage and the livability of their home as the reason for their ineligibility for aid.
Darlene said she has only $500 of FEMA money remaining and is asking anyone who’s willing to help them rebuild their house.
“We were just going to retire here and be happy little ol’ ma and pa sittin’ on the porch,” said Darlene. “And it just didn’t work out that way. But we’ll get back to the chairs on the porch, I promise you. We will.”
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian