Government at work: tornado area can't have basements

Tell a town of Kansas tornado survivors that they can't have a basement? Amy Bemis has a word for talk like that.

"Insane," she says.

Like most residents of Chapman, Kan., Bemis huddled in her basement the night of June 11, when a tornado destroyed scores of homes in this town of 1,250.

Recovery efforts are in full swing, and residents say they will remake Chapman better than it was before.

But the efforts to rebuild the community now face an obstacle townspeople did not expect: Federal reconstruction rules are forcing many residents to rebuild without the basements that sheltered them through the storm.

Ninety-five percent of Chapman's damaged homes lie in a floodplain created by a nearby river and creek. The floodplain cuts a large swath through much of the central residential part of town.

Federal rules say structures destroyed more than 50 percent must be rebuilt higher — in Chapman’s case, just a few feet higher. The government, which insures homes through the National Flood Insurance Program, does not want homes rebuilt and then see them destroyed again by flood.

For those without basements, it means adding a few feet of soil below the new home’s foundation. But for those residents with basements, it's either rebuild without them, or move.

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