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March 23, 2006

9 Questions for Wayne Stark

story and photo by HELEN SANDERSON

When FEMA won't help you, your neighbors will. At least that's what Wayne and Kathy Stark, both 52, have experienced. A landslide triggered by the New Year's storm destroyed the couple's Southern Humboldt home, where they lived for 20 years. In the intervening months, the Starks, who have since been living in a trailer on their property, applied for funding with the Federal Emergency Management Agency but have not yet heard back. Their homeowner's insurance doesn't cover damage caused by landslides. Miranda residents are throwing a benefit party at the Mateel Community Center in Redway this Saturday, March 25, to help get the Starks back on steady ground. For details see this week's Calendar.

Left: Wayne Stark surveys one of the slides on his property.

1. What's the area like where you're located, on Thomas Road in Miranda?

We're actually across the highway from Miranda. It's considered Miranda, but some people refer to it as Salmon Creek. Thomas Road is a road that goes along a hillside, it's mostly pretty steep and there are several parcels on the road that have homes. It goes three and a half or four miles from the highway and then turns into dirt road. We're two and a half miles up. It's a wooded area, tan oak and second-growth fir, mostly.

2. What happened to your house during the New Year's storm?

New Year's Eve we noticed a little crack in the ground. It started to accelerate by New Year's morning -- it was right outside my patio. So we went to investigate it, and saw that the county road had cracked and started to sink. By two in the morning, I guess it would be Jan. 2, I had one of my walls start to separate in the house and I went outside to investigate and our house had slid a little over a foot. Almost the whole 20 acres was falling down the hill, starting up above the county road.

So now the house is actually 14 feet downhill from where it used to be. It went slow, at least. Nobody got hurt. But the house really isn't safe to be in. When you go in to try and salvage stuff it'll still clunk and fall a little bit. What has happened is as the earth slid down the hill it didn't knock the house over; the dirt spread out and the earth just pulled apart the house in different directions, and that's how it collapsed. The earth is still moving all the way to the bottom of the property. I had a whole bunch of dirt fall down the hill into the creek just this last week. It's still moving.

3. You applied with FEMA. How is that process going?

Well, I called them because you can fill out an application over the phone, but they got some information wrong, like my post office box. They got a couple numbers switched. So my application got mailed to somebody else and they opened it and I don't even know if I got everything back. Then I wrote a letter, sent them photographs and gave them the corrections for the application, because a lot of the things they had on the application were incorrect. I sent it registered mail overnight almost three weeks ago, and I haven't heard anything from them. I haven't even gotten my receipt back saying they received it.

I don't know what's going on with FEMA, except for that, even though we were declared a disaster area they aren't going out of their way to help private property owners here. Even though they are in other counties.

4. What is the most they could do for you?

I'm not really clear on that. I'm guessing a small-business loan at a low interest rate or something like that. Sometimes they'll refund ya if you had to spend money to get a living situation, which we had to spend several thousand to get electricity and water and stuff to the trailer, and sometimes they'll give you a check for some of that stuff. I was hoping that because I have to build a new home somewhere that they would work out a long-term loan. I lost my office, because I'm self-employed here. I'm still working as often as I can, but it's kind of hard to operate like I did when I had a home. In the trailer, I don't have room to keep anything. I can't really store file cabinets or anything like that. We've lost a lot of things. We've had strangers driving down our driveway to the house, and then things go missing.

The only reason we're staying with the property is because we never got everything out of the house and, like I say, strangers are driving down and things are disappearing. Then there's just people driving down to take pictures. We're still trying to have some privacy here.

5. What's the estimated damage to your place?

My mortgage was appraised at $304,000. And like I say, I have 20 acres here and almost the whole thing is involved in the slide; maybe 16 or 17 acres out of 20 now have 10-foot, 15-foot cliffs that didn't use to be there. So I've pretty much lost 20 years of work.

6. Are you going to rebuild on the remaining acreage?

No. We can't rebuild here. But my son has graciously consented to let me build on his property, which is nearby. There's a good building site there. I helped him when he purchased the land, so he's willing to let me put a house in over there. But then when it comes to financing, I've already mortgaged this place, so I owe money on this. So I'm kind of stuck.

Like I say, you lose it all, then you hope that after paying taxes for years that FEMA would help you out with something, but so far I haven't had any luck with those guys. And my insurance, I was really surprised that they wouldn't cover anything.

7. Did anything happen to your neighbors' homes?

My next-door neighbor has a lot of land damage but his house is OK. The bottom of the slide is about a quarter-mile long, and my next-door neighbor and his next-door neighbor have pretty good sliding at the bottom parts of their property.

8. Is the county able to assist you?

Apparently not. I called [Humboldt County Supervisor] Roger Rodoni and he answered his own phone and set me up with a call from a Sheriff's Emergency Services person, but they said they couldn't do anything for me. I'm gonna investigate county assistance some more. Not being experienced with this kind of thing, I'm not sure what's available, if anything's available. Everyone keeps saying, no. I don't know what you have to do to get some help. I haven't figured it out yet.

9. Well, you're about to get a little bit of help, anyway.

Oh yeah, the benefit. This community, you know, they're really great down here. The people in Southern Humboldt really pull together for other people when there's a disaster. That's what I want to say. It's a great place for people and I definitely love it here. They're making a huge effort to help me out. I don't picture it raising enough money to build a home, but it will at least get me on the road to get some things that I need. You couldn't ask for better friends and neighbors.


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