Walk through the quiet bend of Juarez Court in Forest Acres, and you might not realize the area last fall was overcome by flood waters from the now-trickling Eight-Mile Branch.
That is, until you come to the house at 201 Juarez Court, towering above its surroundings atop a newly built foundation.
Mary Morgan Kerlagon, a Columbia realtor, and her husband are raising the gutted rental house they own by nine feet to meet flood plain standards, a measure that became necessary after nearly five feet of water rushed through the home on Oct. 4.
Kerlagon is one of less than a dozen property owners in the Columbia area so far who have weighed their options and decided to lift their flood-damaged houses. Others, facing steep costs and restrictions to rebuilding, are taking alternate routes to recovery.
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“We just needed to bite the bullet and lift this house,” Kerlagon said.
Hundreds of Midlands homes were damaged by the storm, and at least 168 in Richland and Lexington counties suffered “substantial damage,” meaning the storm’s damage was more than 50 percent of the home’s preflood market value.
Flood plain standards require homes with substantial damage to be lifted to or above the 100-year flood plain line, which typically means several feet higher. And the city of Columbia and Richland and Lexington counties each take it a step farther, requiring homeowners to raise their houses two feet above that mark.
But raising homes is expensive. And some property owners say it would look odd or they don’t want to climb that many steps.
The cost isn’t small.
The home must be lifted by hydraulic pumps and placed on temporary support pillars while a taller, more resilient foundation is built underneath. Then, the house is lowered onto the new foundation and repaired.
Kerlagon said the process, including necessary renovations and mold remediation, could cost her up to $125,000. She hopes her flood insurance claim will take care of roughly $86,000 of that, but she said she likely will have to deplete her savings to cover the difference.
And that’s even if she gets the maximum $30,000 in federal aid available to help homeowners lift, relocate or demolish their homes, she said.
“What am I going to do? I’m 62,” Kerlagon said. I’ve never defaulted on a loan in my life.”
Since part of Kerlagon’s property, near Timmerman School, is in a development-restricted floodway, she said it makes sense to lift the home in its existing footprint. Development options are more limited in a floodway, where federal officials have determined water will rush, and not just pool, during a flood.
It hasn’t been as simple for other residents.
Some, a drive around Lake Katherine will show, have decided instead to demolish their homes and rebuild taller structures that meet flood plain standards. Some residents are waiting, hoping for a government buyout of their properties. Others have abandoned the homes altogether.
Kerlagon said she hopes that isn’t the case for residents who live near her Juarez Court house but haven’t returned in weeks. Kerlagon expects work on the home will be complete in three months.
Then, she said, she’ll work to make the house an attractive rental again.
“It’ll be a room with a view,” she said.