**UPDATE: FEMA announced Friday afternoon it would extend the hotel assistance program through November 2.
It’s been over a month since massive flooding swamped the Front Range, and FEMA is still paying for close to 600 families to stay in motels. Their homes were severely damaged or destroyed in the floods. But FEMA’s hotel program is scheduled to end tomorrow, and the federal agency hasn’t decided yet whether to extend it.
Robin Hibble of Boulder is one of those staying in a hotel. She's also receiving an education about what a wall of water does when it washes through a home. She had nine inches of water in two rooms and a couple of inches in the main living area.
"What I’ve learned [is], whether you get a couple [of inches] or [a] foot, if [the water has] gone completely through your house, you rebuild from four feet down - cabinets, bathrooms, everything from four feet down," she said.
Hibble says most of her neighbors along South Boulder creek also are rebuilding. She and her husband, grandmother, and three children have spent the past month squeezed together in two rooms at the Boulder Outlook Hotel and Suites.
"It’s not bad," she said. "I come home every day, [and] my bed is made, and my toilet is scrubbed, and I didn’t do it."
She’s working hard to maintain that positive attitude. She says her neighbors at the hotel include people from some of the hardest hit areas like nearby Jamestown and Lyons.
"I can’t complain about anything these days. I feel really grateful," Hibble said. "There are people worse than me that lost their entire home, and although our entire house got flooded, we are able to rebuild."
A handful of flood victims are still staying at the Best Western in Aurora. Sandi Evans works at the front desk there and says she can’t imagine a month of motel living.
"I work in a motel, and I do not want to stay in one, not for any extended period of time," Evans said. "You don’t have your personal stuff around you, you can’t cook when you need to because most of [the rooms] don’t have kitchenettes or anything like that. So it’s a miserable state. It really is. Some people think, oh, it’s a vacation, but it’s absolutely no vacation when you know what you still have to deal with when you go back home."
Evans knows a little bit about what the flood victims staying at the motel are going through. Her apartment was damaged too. She says she vacuumed up 60 gallons of water one day during the height of the storm. She was able to stay in her apartment even while it was being repaired, a process that took three weeks.
"So many things go into it. It’s not just repair it, replace it, and get it over and done with. It is a lengthy process," she said.
In Boulder, that process continues for Robin Hibble. She’s waiting for her home to dry out. Water is still being pumped out of the crawl space.
"I didn’t think it would take this long. I didn’t think I would be here this long," she said.
So what does she miss the most about being away from her home?
"Space, and my friends," she said. "Just my normal life ... I just miss normal life."
Hibble doesn’t know what she’ll do first when she returns home. She says she has to focus on what she must do to rebuild hour by hour and can’t think that far ahead.
Hibble says she and her family might stay with friends if the hotel assistance ends, or she might pay for the motel rooms herself if she can afford it.
Even after FEMA’s hotel program expires, the agency can still help with rent, home repairs, property losses and flood-related needs not covered by insurance. The deadline to register is Nov. 14, and information about how to do that is here.
[Photo: Ethan Marlatt]