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Hundreds in Butte County still waiting for help for last year’s winter storm damage

Edwin and Lianhua Bingham stand in front of their house on Nov. 21, 2023. Their home was damaged in last year’s winter storms.
jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Edwin and Lianhua Bingham stand in front of their house on Nov. 21, 2023. Their home was damaged in last year’s winter storms.

Lianhua and Edwin Bingham are retired truck drivers whose Magalia house just managed to elude the reach of the devastating 2018 Camp Fire.

But now, they’re struggling to recover from another disaster: the series of atmospheric rivers that dropped rain and snow on their home last winter.

According to case managers, hundreds of others in Butte County are also still waiting for assistance, and they worry the approaching winter will make their vulnerable clients’ lives more precarious.

When storms damaged his porch and roof in January and February, Edwin Bingham was recovering from a stroke.

“So we were homeless,” Bingham said, “and I was in rehab, and I could barely move.”

Edwin Bingham is still recovering from a stroke that put him in rehab during last winter’s storms. The couple are working on appealing their FEMA disaster assistance amounts.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Edwin Bingham is still recovering from a stroke that put him in rehab during last winter’s storms. The couple are working on appealing their FEMA disaster assistance amounts.

The Binghams’ homeowners insurance denied their claim, something disaster case managers say is not uncommon for the few survivors who had insurance. Since they couldn’t afford to make repairs on their own, Lianhua – whose first language is Mandarin Chinese, not English – began to apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

But FEMA kept sending less than they needed. Now in November, the Binghams are appealing the amount for the third time.

“Since last February, we've been waiting for FEMA’s help,” Edwin said. “And meanwhile, we have been on our own, dealing with a disaster.”

After a year of disrepair, the Binghams’ home has termite, mold, and rot problems. Though the latest assistance amount from FEMA can cover enough repairs to make the house habitable, their contractor says fixing all their problems would cost more than a hundred thousand dollars.

After months of housing insecurity, Edwin and Lianhua Bingham now live in a trailer in their driveway.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
After months of housing insecurity, Edwin and Lianhua Bingham now live in a trailer in their driveway.

That’s money the Binghams don’t have. After months without their home, they’ve accrued at least $20,000 in debt. Now, with no idea when their house will be repaired, the Binghams need funds to find somewhere to live out the winter.

Elderly, disabled or low-income survivors like the Binghams need particular help after disasters, but FEMA-funded disaster case management programs offering this type of assistance didn’t start until August.

Emily Moore, a disaster case manager working with the Binghams at the nonprofit Northern Valley Catholic Social Services (NVCSS), said though the assistance seems late, disaster response in the county is much faster than it was after the 2018 Camp Fire and 2020 Bear Fire or North Complex. She said storm damage is also more nuanced.

“This process of recovery after a disaster is always long and slow,” she said.

Contractors tear out a wall of the Binghams’ home in Magalia, Calif. on Nov. 21, 2023. Their home has fallen into disrepair since the roof and porch were damaged earlier this year.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
Contractors tear out a wall of the Binghams’ home in Magalia, Calif. on Nov. 21, 2023. Their home has fallen into disrepair since the roof and porch were damaged earlier this year.

Moore is also the Access and Functional Needs specialist, working with especially vulnerable populations affected by the winter storms. That includes elderly, disabled, and low-income people. NVCSS says more than 200 households are on a waiting list to see a disaster case manager.

Moore said like the Binghams, many of her other clients won’t be able to secure funding and contractors before the cold weather sets in, so there’s an urgent need for temporary housing.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add further context that disaster response has been expedited in Butte County since the Camp Fire and Bear Fire or North Complex.

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.