A hard hit

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb 11, 1998

A hard hit

One Palo Alto family was about to sell their now-flooded home

The foyer at Paula Sandas and Dennis Harvey's home on Oregon Avenue hardly gives anything away. Realtors' calling cards are displayed neatly in a circle and sale information sheets about the home are stacked in a pile on an antique hall table.

Then you look down.

A slimy coating of mud underfoot is strangely out of place. Peering around the corner, the living room carpets, once a light gray are now soaked the same muddy brown. In the bathroom, a delicate crystal dish stands precariously on the bottom ledge of the shower, having floated there from a cupboard in the kitchen. Both the bathtub and shower are coated in mud.

On Monday, this was Sandas and Harvey's family home. On Tuesday, it might have been someone else's.

"We were taking offers at 10 a.m. and our house flooded at 3 a.m.," said Sandas. She and her husband had a deposit on another home down the way on Channing Avenue. Their offer was accepted, contingent upon the sale of their Oregon Avenue home, now devastated by a flood neither knew was coming.

"If I had had ten minutes, I could have saved it all," said Harvey of his home-based software business. He has lost $30,000 of computer equipment, drowned in at least a foot of water. Also lost is one of the family's two cars which filled to the dashboard.

"We have questions and we're not sure where to go to have them answered," said Sandas.

Questions like why they woke to a river rushing past their doorstep. Why Harvey had to wake his own neighbors to warn them. Why the 911 operator was, as Sandas said, "less than comforting" the first time she called to say water was lapping at her front door at 3 a.m. The second time she called she was told that there was only one fire engine available. "I got the 'ma'am' treatment," Sandas said.

Even more alarming, Harvey said, was that he was able to turn the lights on in his house after canoeing back from leaving his wife and two children at Cubberley Tuesday morning. "The city didn't turn off any electricity here. Anybody could have been electrocuted just by plugging in a hair dryer and standing on a wet carpet," he said.

Sandas and Harvey can't be sure how much equity they've lost in their home, but they estimate it will be between $50,000 and $75,000.

"One thing we do want to figure out is what is being done to make this neighborhood safe enough so that the home values don't plummet," said Sandas. It's unclear when they will be able to move back in. The floorboards have buckled and the sheetrock is saturated. Even more uncertain is when they will be able to find another house to buy. "It's not like we can slap down some new carpet and slap up some paint and sell the house," Sandas said. But they said they definitely won't sell to speculative buyers wanting to profit from their loss.

"It's so weird to feel like a refugee in this town, and we sort of feel that way," Harvey said of the emotional impact of the flood. Sandas and Harvey and their two children have been staying with relatives and friends while the damage in their home is assessed.

"Dennis and I are the kind of people that are never victims," said Sandas, in work gloves and boots, standing in her family room holding a pile of mud-soaked letters and bills. And she doesn't want this to be the first time.

But despite their ability to see any number of silver linings--they had moved a lot of their possessions to an in-law's house in Alamo in preparation for the move, for one--the couple still has a lot of questions about why, without warning, they lost their chance at a dream home they had been looking for for 14 months. "It was so perfect for us," Sandas said.

--Elisabeth Traugott

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