PEORIA (AP) – Don Yarbrough smiled in his driveway Aug. 1 as construction crews pounded steel beams under his Resthaven Road home.
“This is the day I’ve been waiting for, for five years. This is it,” Yarbrough said, sitting atop his mobility scooter wearing an American flag-emblazoned T-shirt under denim overalls.
The 56-year-old Vietnam vet took steps 5 years ago to have his home raised above the flood plain, a measure that could have spared his family the devastation they endured when 15 inches of Illinois River water washed through the house in April.
Displaced from their home for more than 100 days, the Yarbrough family is one step – or, rather, 7 feet – closer to their fresh start.
“It was all tears,” Yarbrough said of his first time in the home after water receded. “... We lost everything, some of our private stuff, our photos, personal stuff, all of our furniture.”
And Aug. 1 was another emotional day as construction continued. Yarbrough could be back in his home of 23 years, where he raised each of his six adopted children, optimistically, in as little as a month.
“I was saying goodbye to the old house last night. I said, ‘Hey, you’re growing up,’” he said. “I can’t wait. Get up there, house.”
The family hasn’t been together in the home since April 20. Yarbrough, his wife, Tammy, and their 20-year-old daughter, Tinia Martin, live together in a rental unit located just behind their home. Two of Yarbrough’s sons found other living arrangements until renovations are complete.
“That’s the toughest part, not having the kids with me,” Yarbrough said.
The floodwaters caused an estimated $91,000 in damage to the single-story home – $62,000 of which will be covered by the family’s insurance.
At least an additional $50,000 in renovations will be made to the home, Yarbrough said, which doesn’t include close to $5,000 in labor to clean up or the $30,000 in lost personal property.
“We went through our life savings to get to this point,” he said.
Yarbrough learned watching the evening news the night before that the flood was projected to crest at 30 feet; 17 hours later the home was inaccessible, and would be until waters receded 12 days later.
Five years ago, Yarbrough first applied for a housing adaptation grant through the Department of Veterans Affairs that would provide $66,000 to make the home compatible with ADA standards for the handicapped veteran.
He received a letter May 6 that stated his grant application was finally under review.
“If that comes I probably will break even on this thing. But if it don’t come, it doesn’t matter. I’m doing it as if it doesn’t come,” he said. “I’ve got family.”
Two lift elevators will be installed after the home is raised. Interior renovations include wider doorways and a roll-in shower.
Yarbrough cut costs where he could, doing most of the electrical rewiring himself, but hours of help from friends and workers still are necessary before the home is livable once again.
Despite the devastation, Yarbrough has remained upbeat. On Thursday, he jovially rolled through the gutted house on his scooter, pointing out the water line on the wall and what used to be a fireplace.
It’s a risk, he knows, to live a stone’s throw from the river.
“If you build a house on the San Andreas Fault, do not complain if you get an earthquake. That’s just how it is,” he said. “I live on a flood plain. Do not complain; fix it and move on.”
At least an optimistic month away from moving back into his home, Yarbrough promises to show off the improvements when he gets the chance.
“I want to show people the possibilities,” Yarbrough said.
“The biggest thing I want to do is I want to make myself available to those who are getting ready to go through this, let them know, actually share with them how to get through some of the heartache and get the system to work for you, because it’s a tough system.”
Online: (Peoria) Journal Star, http://bit.ly/13raqM4
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com
This is an Illinois Spotlight story shared by the (Peoria) Journal Star.