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Flood changes neighborhood

Burlington levee work is restoring confidence

Jill Schramm/MDN Patty and JD Karhoff stand May 12 outside the home they rehabbed in Burlington after the 2011 flood.

BURLINGTON – Physical recovery from the 2011 flood is near for JD and Patty Karhoff of Burlington. The emotional recovery will take longer.

Patty Karhoff admits she still gets somewhat anxious when there’s a lot of rain or snow. JD Karhoff said the higher levee expected to be completed just down the street gives him confidence and more peace about the future.

Their house not far from the Souris River filled with more than 7 feet of water, coming within about six inches of their ceiling, during the June 2011 flood. Although they were able to remove possessions ahead of the flood, some smaller items, including irreplaceable photo albums, were stacked on closet shelves thought to be high enough to escape the water. They weren’t.

“It was a very humbling experience. It makes you realize what is really important and what is just ‘stuff,'” Patty Karhoff said. “When you took everything out and just piled it by the street, and everybody had this gigantic, higher-than-the-house pile out in the front yard, it’s very humbling.”

Displaced by the flood, the Karhoffs stayed with friends for about five months until they were able to move into a FEMA mobile home park, where they lived until their house was rebuilt to the extent that they could move back in February 2014. They had gutted the house but left it untouched for a year while helping their son rebuild his house.

Patty Karhoff said she wasn’t convinced after seeing the flooded house that they should rebuild.

“I was ready to move,” she said. “It was awful to come back to.”

They remember the Amish relief workers who came and helped tear out floors and bathroom fixtures.

“They were great,” JD Karhoff said.

The Karhoffs did most of the renovation themselves, with the help of family and a friend with construction skills. The basement level wasn’t quite finished as the 10-year flood anniversary neared.

“We aged during the process. I think a lot of people aged a lot faster,” Patty Karhoff said. “It was hard work.”

Like most area residents who weren’t required to carry flood insurance due to existing flood protection, they were compensated with only a relatively small payment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They were grateful for a low-interest loan through the state Rebuilders Fund, created by the Legislature to help with recovery.

Among their neighbors who were not part of a buyout, all but a handful stayed after the flood. JD Karhoff said young homeowners with less home equity and seniors on fixed incomes with little ability to make repairs themselves were often harder hit financially and more likely to struggle to recover.

The Karhoffs’ renovated home looks different today due to some redesign. Their 1960s neighborhood looks even more different. Eleven houses were removed through a buyout, said JD Karhoff, who served on a Burlington committee that worked on the buyout process. Not all trees came back, either, changing the landscape. Sixteen homes were rehabilitated, but six others were demolished and new houses built.

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