GUERNEVILLE (KPIX 5) — As the residents of Guerneville work to clean up and dry out from the flood, state and local agencies are arriving to offer what help they can.
Driving into Guerneville, you are reminded why water is the most destructive force on Earth. Garage doors are blown out and a huge shipping container lies on top of a crushed pickup truck. The everyday stuff of people’s lives is now toxic junk, piled in heaps on the side of the road.
A young woman named Butterfly stayed too late to help a friend and got stuck and now the car she just bought a week ago is ruined.
“There’s so many of us who were walking around this morning…I asked them, where do we go? What do we do?” she said. “And they’re like, I don’t know…I just…I don’t know. And a lot of us are that way.”
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The county opened a one-stop disaster assistance center on Sunday. There, state and local agencies were offering help with everything from insurance matters to psychological counseling to replacing a lost driver’s license.
Perhaps most important for homeowners trying to cut through the bureaucracy was an office issuing over-the-counter construction permits.
“I’ve seen people come in and walk out with a permit to start working on their home within 15 minutes,” said Sonoma County Deputy Administrator Michael Gossman.
It seems that people in Guerneville are so experienced with flooding that many homeowners and businesses in town are already starting to rebuild.
With the help of some of his loyal clients, Berlin Fisher moved his hair salon upstairs to an empty room in his building; the downstairs area has already cut out the soggy wallboard and replaced all of the electrical boxes.
“We just had to get everything aired out as soon as possible,” he said. “The faster you get the mud out and you get the air-out started, the better and easier it is.”
For those who can rebuild, there is help. But for others, like Butterfly, the most urgent need is housing; the car she bought last week was also where she was living.
When asked what her next step was, she said, “Just help around as much as I can and hope that God will send enough help for everyone, I guess. That’s all I can do.”
The county’s deputy administrator says while housing is the biggest need right now, it is also the one thing in shortest supply. Sonoma County already had a housing shortage after the wildfires in 2017, and now the Guerneville flood is only making that problem worse.
For the county, the next step will be to convince the federal government to declare Guerneville a disaster area. That would supply federal money to help fund up to 75 percent of local disaster response and assistance.