NORWICH — Tina Myers and her family woke up on June 27 and expected nothing more than a normal Sunday morning. They saw off visiting family members, and took their daughter to a soccer game.
Myers went back to bed and when she next awoke, she found the entire first floor of their Norwich home being flooded with wastewater slurry coming from the bathroom toilet.
"Everything was absolutely fine," said homeowner Myers. "My daughter went to her soccer game. We decided to go back to bed. The next thing I know, my husband is screaming something happened in the basement and we came out, it was completely corner to corner covered in sewage."
The incident has caused local controversy, with the homeowners claiming city employees and officials initially apologized and admitted their mistake. Since those conversations, however, the City of Norwich’s insurance company has recently denied to cover the estimated $80,000 in damages and told the family it was not the city’s fault.
Elected city officials expressed sympathies but declined to discuss the incident publicly.
The home is located in Ward 3 in the City of Norwich. Ward 3 Alderwoman Nancy Allaire did not return calls. Other officials declined to comment or said little.
The day it happened the couple were told by a neighbor the Department of Public Works (DPW) had been pumping the lines that morning. Myers called the city and said a short time later two DPW workers showed up at the home.
"So two employees from DPW came up, and they weren't even necessarily the ones who had already been there earlier, but they came up and checked it out. They confirmed that it had been pumped the wrong way. And so it had nowhere to go, our house is the lowest point up in that neighborhood. And so it pumped it all into our house," Myers explained.
She said a DPW employee estimated the amount of dumped sewage to be around 10,000 gallons, as their truck had been full and, after pumping the lines, stood empty.
Myers was critical of the city and said the DPW has not been cooperative, but that she and her family had received some help from Mayor Shawn Sastri and Alderman Matthew Caldwell.
”Matt Caldwell was the first person to say he was sorry, of all the people. Both he and Shawn [Sastri] have been very apologetic and kept in touch with us and tried to point us in the right direction," said Myers.
Caldwell said he has been there as much as he can for the family, and has helped them through the process.
"I would like for these folks to have their lives get back to normal. It's just a terrible situation and it would be horrible for anyone to have to deal with," said Caldwell. "I don't think anybody can really speculate what that's like."
Sastri echoed his sentiments, saying "we're doing all we can to work with the homeowners with the current situation. And you know, it is terrible."
City of Norwich Attorney Steve Natoli said, “we feel horrible about the homeowners in this situation, but we can’t comment on anything at this time."
According to Myers, DPW Superintendent Ed Pepe also visited the home and acknowledged the fault of the department. She said she then thought everything "was going to get fixed."
Myers said she immediately contacted a cleaning crew after discovering the flooding, and that they spent three days in her home ripping out floors and walls.
"My biggest fear is I've got three kids living in the house and long term is it gonna harm them breathing this in? My youngest has asthma and I'm just thinking in the future is this gonna have any effect on them?" Myers wondered.
Director of Environmental Health Isaiah Sutton said there are possible health ramifications of the flooding, but if it was cleaned properly and thoroughly the risk is greatly minimized.
"The longer you let it set the worse the problem is," he said. "As long as the initial cleaning is thorough, the risk of continued mold growth is minimal. Any homeowner that's been flooded should continue to monitor that area to see if that comes back, to make sure that the initial cleaning was adequate."
After the cleaning and admitted fault by DPW employees, Myers said she had hoped the city would "do the right thing" and cover the cost of the damages.
Then, Myers received a letter from the city insurance, stating her claim was denied and that the city was not at fault. City officials have confirmed that the letter is authentic.
"It was not until last week that we got the letter for the city's insurance company saying that, no, they were not going to cover it because it was not their fault. And that's where we stand right now," said Myers.
"Our investigation revealed the city of Norwich employees did nothing wrong in clearing the sewer," read the letter. "You misunderstood the employee you spoke with. The employee was trying to explain to clear the sewer you go downstream which he did, they did not go upstream to clear the sewer. The City of Norwich did not cause the back-up nor could they reasonably have prevented it."
"The City of Norwich maintains a Commercial Grant Liability policy with NYMIR and will pay claims only if the City of Norwich is deemed to be legally liable for the damages," the letter continued. "It is our position that the City of Norwich acted reasonably and in accordance with its legal obligations with regard to its sewer system. We therefore must refrain from making any payments at this time."
Myers stated her own insurance also does not want to pay, as they feel the city is to blame.
"My homeowner's insurance is working with us, but they’re also in the same boat saying, well wait a minute, this wasn’t your fault. Why would we pay for this when the city did it? So we’re at a standstill right now," said Myers.
City officials would not comment on whether DPW was responsible or if the department had alerted residents prior to the work being done in their area.
The damage is estimated to cost around $80,000 to fix, according to Myers. But, that number does not cover the cost of lost time at her job, her husband's job, the cleaning crew fees, or clothes for her daughter, who Myers said "lost everything."
"The cleaning crew alone was 11,000 [dollars]," said Myers. "It's gonna be 80 [thousand dollars] to fix all of this, give or take, and replace some of the items or whatever. But now we're looking at the cleaning crew and we're looking at all this time lost and it's going up and up."
After receiving word that the city would not be covering the costs, Myers said Pepe became difficult to work with, and that he claimed he never admitted fault.
"Pepe on the other hand has not been easy to work with. He came out and fully acknowledged it was their fault, and then after that letter came he talked to my husband. He said, oh no, no, no, I never said any of that," said Myers.
The lack of assistance from the city has led Myers to sue, something she said she didn't want to do.
"Nothing has changed, nothing has been done. And basically it has kind of come down to, we have to sue the city," she said. "I didn't want to have to do that."
Currently, the family is still awaiting answers. Myers said she has been speaking with lawyers, and one told her it could take up to a year before the matter is resolved.
"The one lawyer I talked to said it could be eight months to a year before we get any answers. And I don't know, I don't know how we're going to do that, pay this mortgage, plus we're paying water and sewer and all this stuff," said Myers. "I don't know how we're going to last a year like this."
Myers said her best case scenario is simply, “getting my house fixed.”
“And not having to go through a long drawn out process, which I don’t know if that’s even a possibility,” she added.
"I'm also a little concerned that we're gonna spend all this money to fix it and this could happen again, and I don't even know where I even need to start to make sure that this never happens to us again," said Myers. "It wasn't just water, you know? It would be one thing if it was a flood. This was sewage."