Last week, Kiowa Street in Millington looked more like a city dump than a quiet, suburban neighborhood. Mountains of soggy, ruined belongings were dumped on the curb as a sanitation crew slowly made its way down the street.
At the end of Kiowa, nearly everything that Kali and Jack Shields owned is piled in their yard — their mattress, bookshelves, Kali's art supplies. The couple's home was submerged in four feet of water following flooding in Millington on May 1st.
Both of their vehicles were totaled. Their bed, sofa, and kitchen appliances were ruined. Sentimental items like baby shoes and an antique mirror were damaged. During the cleanup, someone stole a four-wheeler and a boat from their front yard. The few belongings that survived the flood take up only half of their garage. Inside their home, Jack is ripping out sheetrock and insulation.
"We're recommending people take out all the insulation six inches above the water line. That insulation will serve as a wick and absorb all that water," said Gary Graves, Millington fire chief. "If you don't follow those steps, there could be some potential for mold and mildew developing in the summer."
Graves estimates that residences and businesses in Millington collectively sustained about $40 million in damages after Big Creek rose above the levee designed to prevent such a disaster. The Corps of Engineers constructed the levee after Millington experienced a similar flood in 1987.
Like many residents of the Indian Meadows subdivision, Kali and Jack Shields did not have flood insurance. "Our insurance doesn't cover the flood, but it covers storm damage. How is a drop of water that comes through the roof different from what comes through the floor?" Jack asked.
The couple estimate their losses at $70,000. They've relied on donations from friends to get by, and they hope to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whose crews arrived over the weekend to assess the damage. "We hope to have a disaster relief center set up in the next few days," Graves said. "The FEMA assistance will kick in to some degree after people contact their insurance companies."
To qualify for FEMA assistance, residents must first register to receive a claim number by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or at fema.gov.
Kali and Jack Shields were lucky to find temporary shelter at a friend's house, but Graves said nearly 200 people (more than 100 of them from the Memphis Mobile City Trailer Park in Northaven) are living in emergency shelters in the area.
People in Millington aren't the only ones left homeless by the flood. The Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County is holding about 30 dogs and cats rescued after the waters receded. None has a collar or microchip.
"We're holding them here for 14 days in hopes that their owners will come and get them," said Amanda McNeely, director of operations for the Humane Society. "After the 14 days, we'll spay and neuter them and put them up for adoption."
McNeely said many residents, especially those in the flooded Shady Oaks Trailer Park, weren't given a chance to retrieve their animals when help arrived. McNeely talked to one trailer-park resident whose puppy drowned after it was left in a crate inside his trailer.
Last week, representatives from the Shelby County Health Department held a meeting at First Baptist Church in Millington, advising people that, despite rumors, flood victims did not need any vaccinations like tetanus or hepatitis shots.
"Our chief health concern after the flood is mosquito breeding," Yolanda Matlock said. "We are fortunate that the flood occurred early in the season before mosquitoes have really started to appear."
It could take months before many residents' lives return to normal. On the Millington naval base, where more than 100 homes were flooded, New Force Master Chief of Navy Personnel Command Jon Fort said they're working "as quickly as possible to get families back into their regular quarters."
Jack Shields, a self-professed "jack of all trades," plans to do most of the work on his house without hiring help. He estimated he'll be done in about two months at most. Unfortunately, rebuilding means taking time off from Jack's HVAC job during the busiest season.
"It's going to be a long recovery process for folks," Graves said. "Rebuilding the houses will happen fairly quickly, and that process has already started. But as far as getting people's lives back in order, that's going to take quite some time."