MIDWEST CITY — A couple whose Choctaw home nearly washed into the swollen North Canadian River on June 6 say they have “fallen through the cracks,” as neither their homeowner's insurance nor flood insurance will cover their lost home.
Gary and Rhonda Buford are renting a home in Midwest City because their house at NE 36 and Triple X Road — which once was a couple of hundred feet from the river's edge — could wash away any day.
“The insurance companies are kind of pointing at each other,” Rhonda Buford said Friday.
The Bufords are getting help from U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who set up a meeting Friday morning in his office with the couple, their mortgage holder, Insurance Commissioner John Doak's staff, charity groups and others who could offer aid.
Rhonda Buford said they have received lots of emotional help as well, but their key problem remains unsolved. Their home insurer claims the damage is not covered under their policy, and their flood insurer said the damage is erosion, not flooding.
“We thought we did everything right,” Gary Buford said. “We had home insurance. We had flood insurance. We were faithful in paying our premiums and we have fallen through the cracks.”
The home is perched precariously on the edge of the river, and authorities say it's not safe for the couple to return.
Before recent flooding, the river was about 200 feet to the east of the home. Several storms brought the water level up, culminating in a massive May 31 storm that dumped 11.5 inches of rain on the Oklahoma City metro area.
The influx of storm runoff engorged the river and caused it to shift to the west, quickly eroding the bank. A barn and an out building on the Buford's property fell into the river. Their home and a smaller house a few feet away, where their grown son lived, are on the river's edge and could fall in at any time.
District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan said he has been trying to help the couple by getting an official condemnation of the property, which could help with insurance vagaries.
“It's complicated, and it's disheartening,” Maughan said. “Being there that day watching as chunks of their land fell into the river — it was really disconcerting. It was clear they needed to evacuate that house immediately.”
The Bufords said Catholic Charities offered immediate help, putting them up in a hotel room while they looked for a rental home. Many neighbors and volunteers helped empty the contents of their home.
Gary Buford works at Pro-Fab Inc. in Oklahoma City and has a steady income, but the couple is now paying both a mortgage and monthly rent, which they can't afford.
Rhonda Buford said Bank of America, their mortgage holder, has tried to help by offering them a three-month forbearance on their mortgage, but they still will owe the back payments unless insurance comes through on their home.
“We are trying to figure out some way to set a precedent so no one else has to go through this,” Rhonda Buford said.
‘We love the river'
Gary Buford said it is difficult knowing their home is going to fall into the river unless insurance comes through and allows it to be demolished first.
“We moved there because we love the river,” Gary Buford said. “Now it's going to turn around and ruin the river. We don't want it to fall in and then wash down and damage our neighbors' property.”