Standing in the ruins of his basement, surrounded by soggy stacks of clothes, photo albums and the stench of sewer-soaked carpet, Jessy Nowak kept repeating a one-word message for the Ontario government: "Help."
The Turner Road resident is one of an estimated 5,000 people in Windsor and Essex County whose homes were damaged in the flooding that followed record-breaking rains on Aug. 29. On Tuesday, a provincial disaster assessment team visited Nowak and several other people in an effort to get a sense of the scope of the damage.
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Before the floodwaters filled his basement for the first time in 25 years, Nowak and his wife were getting ready to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, but all they've been doing for the past seven days is clearing ruined mementoes.
"50 years of being married," said Nowak, fighting back sobs and wiping away tears. "You lose pictures, you lose a lot."
Mountains of damaged goods still tower over pedestrians walking along Turner and throughout parts of Windsor.
At his home a few doors down from Nowak, Ramy Asmaro stood next to a pile of chairs, tables and scrap wood taller than him.
The visit from the assessment team was the first ray of sun he's had after days hauling furniture and sodden carpet up his narrow basement stairs.
"We were looking to talk to someone and the lines were busy … so for them to reach out to us means a lot," he said. "That means they are thinking of the people who were affected by this."
Hundreds waiting for help after 2016 flood
Assessment teams — made up of staff from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and insurance adjusters — will estimate the cost of repairing the damage to thousands of flooded homes in Windsor, LaSalle, Tecumseh and Lakeshore.
Ministry spokesperson Mark Cripps said the team took a week to get to Windsor because they wanted to stay out of the way of residents during cleanup and because they needed to wait for the water to fully recede.
He added it's hard to say how long it will take to determine whether local residents qualify for disaster relief assistance but that, historically, it takes about seven days.
If the province agrees the area was hit hard enough to trigger the assistance program, residents would need to apply and have their claims approved. The program provides "partial financial assistance to return essential property to its basic function."
Flooding caused by "sewer backup is not generally eligible under the program" though "there is a special provision to provide assistance to low-income households."
Here's the view from Ramy's front porch. Turner was hit hard. Mountains of flood-damaged goods tower over pedestrians. pic.twitter.com/XJcRxsjNmp— @DanTaekema
Hundreds are still waiting to learn if they'll receive any help after widespread flooding last September.
The limitations of the disaster relief program led three area mayors last week to call on Premier Kathleen Wynne to create a provincially supported insurance program for residents who can no longer get flood insurance, but a spokesperson for the ministry said there are currently no plans to change the program.
Nowak said he and his wife are living on their pensions so there isn't much cash to cover the unexpected catastrophe that overwhelmed him despite having two sump pumps running full-tilt and a third carrying water out a window.
Jessy Nowak was about to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary then the flood ruined 50 years-worth of photos & mementos. Now he needs help pic.twitter.com/1X5Is4ZRmM— @DanTaekema
During the flooding, and in the days after, he relied on his neighbours to help him clear the mess. Now, he said, it's time for the municipal and provincial government to step up.
"This is our home. It's not just a house," he said. "The help just seems to go as far as the front door. It seems like no one from the government or the city will step in to give us a hand."