Reno man, small cast of volunteers still helping Fernley flood victims

Almost a month has passed since the nation's eyes descended upon Fernley as a 50-foot section of the Truckee Canal ruptured at 4:16 a.m. Jan. 5, creating a flood plain out of a low-lying tract just outside the downtown.

Almost a month has passed - and some are still cleaning their homes, looking for answers.

Sunday, Reno resident Ron Bell, a realtor who said he is acting as "just a concerned citizen" helped organize, for the third week, an ad-hoc group of volunteers to help flood victims get back on their feet - and into their homes.

"It may come as a surprise to people, but there's still clean-up to be done, there's still an effort going on," he said. "It's a small (effort), yes - but we've got some guys going out here on the weekends. From unskilled to skilled labor, I've even started taking my 10-year-old daughter."

Bell said most of the remaining volunteers spend their time doing "minor work."

"A lot of it is the small stuff, cleaning blinds and wiping down walls," he said. "There's still some muddy work, and some people have gotten down under the houses - that's a dirty job."

What seems to perplex Bell is not the fact that the number of volunteers has decreased as January draws to a close, but that some Fernley flood victims do not want help at all.

"I know people have their different reasons, and I can't comment on that, but some homes are just standing, as-is," he said. "I guess that's what attorneys tell them to do. But to me, some of it doesn't make sense.

"If you can get in there and fix it, why would you want your stuff to rot?"

Indeed, dozens of Fernley families are waiting it out until legal action is taken.

Last week, Reno attorney Robert Hager, who represents more than 30 Fernley families, filed a complaint in Washoe County District Court saying hazardous bacteria and mold from the flood will become a health hazard once the weather warms up.

Hager said the hidden danger of the molds will increase occupants' risk of "cancer and death." Hagar's lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, names the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, Lyon County, the city of Fernley and homebuilders as defendants.

Hagar's suit and another lawsuit filed this month in Yerington also allege that the TCID did not properly maintain the canal and failed to minimize damage once the breach occurred.

Ernie Schank, TCID president, said the district reacted quickly after the breach. The irrigation district operates the canal under a contract with the canal's owners - the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Bell, on Sunday, tried to put the machinations of a litigious culture behind him as he helped sweep sidewalks and ready drywall to put back into homes.

"Each individual has rights and a right way they feel they should go about doing things," he said. "But people seem quick to jump into lawsuits - and there's always an 'expert' out there to help lead them in that direction.

"Mine's not (the place) to say what's right or wrong for individuals. I' m trying to help and do what I can to get these folks back in their homes."

Bell, who said he got "sucked in" during the flood weekend, said the volunteers he's met and the homeowners he's helped have "continued to rally."

"Everyone's tried to keep it positive," he said. "Things are still drying out, we've got the drywall at the ready. Some are starting to get money and that's a help, because many are stuck here, without homes - without money for food and gas.

"People still need help."

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