One month later, Fernley flood victims still waiting for 'normal life'

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal Fernley resident Wesley McKnight washes excess grout from newly laid tile in the kitchen Monday afternoon, one of many efforts the home owners have made to repair flood damage to their home on Jenny's Lane.

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal Fernley resident Wesley McKnight washes excess grout from newly laid tile in the kitchen Monday afternoon, one of many efforts the home owners have made to repair flood damage to their home on Jenny's Lane.

Wesley McKnight leaned back in a lawn chair propped against his kitchen wall and took a long drag from his cigarette.

He stretched out his legs, clad in blue paint-splattered sweats and plastic-capped kneepads that had slipped around his ankle.

He wiped a bit of perspiration off his brow and his eyes glanced up at his ceiling and then down to the stripped plywood floor beneath his feet.

"Back to work," he said.

In his front yard, an American Flag was lapping gently in the 20-degree February breeze. Across the street on Fernley's Jenny's Lane, his neighbor's home was empty; the only sign that someone had been there since the holidays was a neon-green posting on the door warning "unauthorized" persons to stay away.

That was the story of Jenny's Lane on Monday.

The street, the epicenter of the Fernley flood, which gutted the neighborhood and thrust the 21,000-person town into the national spotlight one month ago today, featured deserted driveways and front yards piled with debris and rife with half-filled storage pods.

Most homes still featured holiday decor, a symbol of how life stopped and was then swept away by flood waters for some 3,000 residents.

Cutting through the emptiness was the occasional sound of a hammer's pounding echoing off the interior of a house down the street.

Otherwise, the neighborhood still was but for the neon placards and the occasional agent parking to adjust "For Rent" and "For Sale" signs, which now dot the landscape.

"There are some people who aren't coming back," said Kathy McKnight, Wesley's wife. The couple moved into their home on Jenny's Lane in 2001 and called it the ideal neighborhood. Kathy, clad in latex gloves and animating her conversation with the wave of a wet paintbrush, was busy Monday morning whitewashing some of the new sheetrock the couple had hung over the weekend. "Some of our neighbors are coming back, some plan to -but things definitely aren't back to normal yet.

"Maybe they won't be for a long time."

The McKnights woke up with a start Jan. 5 to the sound of trickling water and the phone ringing.

"It was actually one of our neighbors calling," Wesley said. "A half hour later I was in my hip waiters, chest-deep in water."

En route to shelter, the couple would soon learn scattered details of the 30-foot section of the earthen Truckee Canal, which broke shortly before 5 a.m., sending a wave of water rushing into the town.

Typical, they said, of other Jenny's Lane homeowners, the McKnights did not have flood insurance. The McKnights disclosed they are involved in at least one of the class-action suits filed against the TCID, the developers and local governments seeking unspecified damages from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District - the couple maintained they want just one thing: "A little piece of our life back."

Jenny's Lane renter Cristy Fenn was busy loading her father's pick-up Monday morning. Fenn does have renters' insurance, but none of it covered damages in the flood. While she said she was not reluctant to return to her home - one that sat slightly higher than most with damage confined mostly to its crawl space - she did portend a change in the neighborhood.

"It's tough to say what it's going to be like here - we're still recovering," she said.

While Fenn said she is not eligible from Federal Emergency Management Agency help, she did use the Red Cross and Salvation Army resource during her "crisis time" of a month ago.

"(Those) agencies and the community especially were amazing," she said.

Her father, Rick Ackland, who said he lives across town from his daughter, said he arrived to help rescue Fenn and her neighbors during the flood to find "strangers in trucks picking people off their rooftops."

"I think we really found out what Fernley is made of that day," he said. "This community really rallied, and continues to."

At City Hall Monday, FEMA representatives still occupied its town council chambers. Mid-day there was nary a customer.

"Our last day here is (today), so if people are still seeking assistance, that's the day to come," said Gabriella Garibaldi, a FEMA spokeswoman. "We've been busy and there's ways people can still get help (1-800-621-FEMA), but (today's) our last day."

As recent storm clouds cleared and the sun shone Monday afternoon on Jenny's Lane, the McKnights wrapped work for the day.

Progress had been made; the couple's washer and dryer had been moved back into the laundry room and while the washer "is a little funky" both were operational.

The couple's refrigerator ran in its living room and the couple anticipated a day soon when the stove, which sat on the back porch, could be moved in and home-cooked meals would resume.

They plan to lay carpet as soon as this weekend. And then, perhaps, furniture could be moved back in.

Returning to "normal life" perhaps sooner than most in the neighborhood.

"We've just been trying to make due," Wesley said. "It's because of the help of family and the community that we're still here."

• Contract reporter Andrew Pridgen at apridgen@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.

Flood facts

In the weeks that followed the flood, officials from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District revealed six past breaks of the canal - at least three occurred before 1926 when the federal government operated the canal, and three have taken place since.

TCID has an operating agreement with the federal Bureau of Reclamation to run the 31-mile-long canal that takes water from the Truckee River near Reno to farms around Fallon. The contract is renewed every five years and was last renewed in 2007.

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