CRAIG, MO (KCTV) -- 71-year-old Larry Whetsel grew up in in a house in Craig, Missouri and lived there until floodwater poured in this March. What happened next is a story of red tape and disappointment.
Ask anyone who lives in Craig and they’ll tell you the flooding in March was a devastating disaster.
“A total nightmare,” Whetsel expressed. “It’s hard to explain how it feels to walk in and see your house gone.”
Like many of his neighbors, at first Whetsel could only reach his home by airboat. He was so distraught when he waded chest deep to check on his home that he didn’t realize a man who tagged along took his photo for the New York Times.
He applied for assistance from FEMA due to damage from the March 20 flooding. A FEMA inspector came to his home in June. He says he received a check from FEMA on June 18.
“For $12,483.80 and I thought, how in the world did they come up with that figure? That won’t even touch to replace the foundation of the house,” Whetsel said. “I deposited it in the bank, but I didn’t spend any of it because I didn’t trust them to start out with.”
Whetsel is thankful he was skeptical. He soon received a letter demanding he pay FEMA back.
“‘Our decision is that your house was not damaged by the disaster.’ I said, ‘Okay, what was it damaged by?’” Whetsel questioned.
Whetsel thought the photo in the New York Times and the obvious damage to his home would convince FEMA not to ask for the money back, but he didn’t want to risk putting up a fight.
“It said you have 30 days to pay it back or we will start penalizing you at 1% per month.” Whetsel recalled. “I’m on Social Security, I can’t afford to have it taken out of my Social Security check, so I sent it. I overnight expressed it.”
He paid it back but doesn’t believe he should have. FEMA did approve an application for assistance for individuals and families who sustained damage or losses due to the flooding or severe storms from April 29 to July. Whetsel is frustrated that FEMA will not recognize the March 20 flood date that damaged his home and many others in Craig.
“That is the only truth our disaster was in March, it didn’t have anything to do with April 29. Where they came up with the April 29 date is anybody’s guess,” Whetsel said.
Whetsel has since moved to a home on higher ground but says that house doesn’t feel like home. He plans to tear down what’s left of his lifelong home by himself because he can’t afford to hire someone else.
“I just want people to know what happened,” Whetsel said.
KCTV5 News has reached out to FEMA representatives for comment but have not yet heard back.