FEMA buyouts turn Olive Branch, IL., neighborhoods into ghost towns

During the flood of 2011 up to 4 feet of flood water covered homes in Olive Branch, Illinois. Today, those same homes are covered with weeds.

“We came down here 21 years ago, and re-did the house from another flood, and were safe until the last flood,” Olive Branch resident Betty Walden said.

Even after the waters receded many of Walden’s neighbors opted to take a Federal Emergency Management Agency buyout, leaving many of the neighborhoods in Olive Branch resembling a ghost town.

“It’s really lonely,” Walden said. “Our nearest neighbor is about a half a mile away, I think.”

Though the houses still stand, Alexander County Highway Engineer Jeff Denny said the homes will never be occupied again after the owners chose to take FEMA buyouts.

“So far we’ve closed on 20 homes, and we’re closing on like nine more here in a couple of weeks,” Denny said. “You can’t ever build homes or insurable structures again on that property.”

While many of her neighbors literally head for the hills with their buyouts, Walden said she’s staying put.

“We had a chance to take the buyout, but we’ve decided that we would go ahead and stay,” Walden said. “With all of the buyouts, I’m really going to miss all of my neighbors. But we’ll just get by, and we’re going to stay here forever and ever.”

Denny said there are close to 100 more properties that could be bought out using FEMA money, but that could take more than a year due to the long process of property surveys, appraisals, and getting final approval from state and federal agencies.

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