Amid pollution, with their power cut, Eagle families leave flooded homes

Flooding on Eagle Island forces families to evacuate

Rising water at the Riviera Estates mobile home park on Eagle Island has forced residents to evacuate as their power was cut on Monday morning. Alisha Cowger and her family of 6 (not counting pets) are camping out on a friend's property for now. S
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Rising water at the Riviera Estates mobile home park on Eagle Island has forced residents to evacuate as their power was cut on Monday morning. Alisha Cowger and her family of 6 (not counting pets) are camping out on a friend's property for now. S

For now, Alisha Cowger’s family is going camping. That’s what she tells her children — three boys ages 10, 9 and 8, and a girl, 4 — when they ask when they’ll be able to return home.

The Cowgers are one of about 80 families in Eagle who had to leave their homes on Monday morning after Ada County issued a mandatory evacuation notice and cut power to the area. The family of six lives in Riviera Estates, a mobile home park just south of Hatchery Road and east of Linder Road where standing water on Monday had reached as much as 30 inches deep in spots.

“We actually have a pretty decent setup,” Cowger said of their campsite, pitched at a friend’s house. “We have a 10-by-12 sheepherder’s tent that we’re all currently living in with our parrot and three dogs and our children. And we’re making the best of it.”

Inches of water covered most driveways on Monday morning. The pumphouse that supplies water to the park’s mobile homes was surrounded by a wall of sandbags piled four or five high. Electrical transformers and septic tanks were taking on water, too. That meant risk of electrocution and polluted water, officials said.

Cowger said she’s lucky — her home sits a bit higher than others in the park, and it hasn’t yet been inundated with floodwaters. She said she’s not concerned about the structure of her house.

“I don’t have any worries about any damage at all. It’s just that we can’t be here,” she said. “We can’t be here without power and gas, and we can’t flush our toilets because the septic tanks are all full with water draining into them.”

And her family is one of the best off in the park, Cowger said.

“There are some people in here that it’s just been devastating to their homes. Financially and all the structural damage they’re going to have to replace — it’s horrible,” she said. “Luckily we have amazing friends and family that said we can stay as long as we wanted to.”

Many others have found shelter with nearby relatives or friends — so many, in fact, that an initial Red Cross evacuation shelter was put on standby because nobody was staying there. On Monday afternoon, the shelter officially reopened at Eagle Church of the Nazarene, 1001 W. State St., according to Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Fernandez-Gevaert. There, people can get food and shelter, along with emotional support for the trauma of going through an emergency displacement.

Quite a few of Riviera Estates’ residents are struggling with that added stress. Cowger said several families in the park are elderly. One woman uses an oxygen tank. Another family has a 2-week-old infant.

For some families, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough help. Tony Fratto lives in the park with his five children. Initially, Fratto was going to run a generator to his home and try to stick it out like some of his neighbors are. One of his daughters recently had a kidney transplant and, because of her compromised immune system, can’t stay at a public shelter like the one the Red Cross is offering.

“We just need help,” said Fratto, who has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for a temporary residence.

Though residents were warned of the evacuation on Friday and given the weekend to try to make arrangements, Fratto said those couple of days just weren’t enough. He said he and his neighbors were working together to give each other a hand, but lending that help meant the park’s residents weren’t moving just one household.

Frustration and confusion

Fratto and others at Riviera Estates were growing increasingly frustrated on Monday by what they said were mixed signals from officials, a lack of information about the situation and what they see as a lack of care on the part of some first-responders. Fratto said he felt those attitudes were in part because the Riviera Estates residents live in mobile homes rather than some of the pricier developments nearby.

Eagle Fire Battalion Chief Rob Shoplock said first-responders have done everything they can to keep residents informed, including keeping a staffed information trailer on-scene. He said responders have tried to stay sensitive to residents’ stress, as well.

“I think everybody is viewed as a customer in our community, and we want to treat them with dignity and with respect,” Shoplock said.

Cowger has other concerns. She said she’s particularly worried about the quality of the water — and getting details on that has been difficult. Through secondhand information and television reports, Cowger said she’d heard the standing water around the homes tested positive for E. coli, though she wasn’t sure if it was true.

The water has started to mix with the contents of residents’ septic systems. Across Hatchery and Artesian roads, livestock are living (and defecating) in the same water that stretches through Riviera Estates. In pastures closer to the river, large carp have jumped the river’s banks and are splashing through 6-inch-deep water and tall grass.

“We’ve been told to treat (the standing water) as if it’s contaminated. If it is actually contaminated, I can’t bring my kids back here even after the water subsides until the bacteria’s had a chance to die off,” Cowger said.

Officials are trying to clear up any confusion. Much of the decision-making has to be done on the fly as water continues to spill out of canals and spread across the flood plain, officials said. Right now, authorities aren’t sure if another mobile home park north of Hatchery Road on Dolson and Pitkin lanes will need its power cut, too. Electricity there is supplied by overhead power lines rather than an underground system, said Tony Calzacorta with Idaho Power.

And with temperatures rising, it’s not clear what will happen with water levels, making it difficult to let residents of the park know what will happen with their homes. Cowger said she’s been told the water may not completely dry up until late June.

“There’s so much to worry about — mold, everything,” Shoplock said. “This water is going to be here for quite a while. We’ve been telling people, ‘You need to plan for a long time.’ 

As long as there’s standing water, said Shoplock, there’s risk — of illness from whatever potentially contaminates the water, and of electric shock in the event that any live lines end up in the flooding. He’s hopeful that water won’t continue to rise, but it’s a toss-up. Right now, Eagle Island is “like a big sponge, and the ground can’t soak up any more water.”

“It’s all about what the river does,” Shoplock said.

Nicole Blanchard: 208-377-6410, @NMBlanchard