Sweetwater woman's home fills with sewage

Sweetwater woman's home fills with sewage, utilities board denies responsibility

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Pat Lenoir dreads going into her home. Pat Lenoir dreads going into her home.
"I don't know what to do, I don't know," Pat Lenoir sobbed. "I don't know what to do, I don't know," Pat Lenoir sobbed.
6 On Your Side went with Lenoir to the utilities board office to speak with Robert Bettis, the manager. 6 On Your Side went with Lenoir to the utilities board office to speak with Robert Bettis, the manager.
"I just want to come home and get out of that hotel. I'm losing it," Pat Lenoir said. "I just want to come home and get out of that hotel. I'm losing it," Pat Lenoir said.

By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Consumer Investigator

SWEETWATER (WATE) - A serious sewer backflow problem for a Sweetwater woman has been called an "unfortunate incident" by the city's utility board.

But for her, the incident is catastrophic.

Pat Lenoir dreads going into her home. The 78-year-old widow hasn't lived there since mid-July after returning from a family visit out of state.

The house she and her late husband bought in 1994 is across the street from a sanitary main operated by Sweetwater Utilities Board.

While she was away sewage backed up into her dishwasher, came up through the drain in her shower, and nasty remnants from the sewer backflowed into her washing machine.

You definitely don't want to see the material left in her toilet from the city sewer. It's awful.

"It has ruined my whole home," Lenoir said. "I can't live here any more."

Her insurance company recommended that she not clean up the mess herself, that she hire an experienced restoration company and let the experts handle the mess.

"It's all in the floor, soaked my whole floor, ran down my drain," Lenoir said of the sewage in her home. "It was ankle deep in here, ankle deep."

The backflow happened while she had been away during the rainy days that hit the area in early July.

When Mrs. Lenoir returned on July 11 she immediately called her insurance company. An investigator came out and took pictures.

American Bankers Insurance wrote on July 25, saying the damage is excluded under her policy.

The insurance company said her policy does not provide payment resulting from water backing up through sewers or drains below the surface of the ground.

"I don't know what to do, I don't know," Lenoir sobbed. "I'm sorry. I don't know what to do."

Lenoir is devastated because Sweetwater Utilities Board says the problem is not their fault.

In a letter dated August 1, the board's insurance company concludes, "The utility is not negligent or responsible for the unfortunate incident."

The letter also states, "The utility cannot predict or prevent debris from being put into the sewer system which results in blockage."

Lenoir is surprised at the response. She says no one from the utility's insurance team has seen the damage.

"No, no insurance adjuster came here at all," she said.

Lenoir says others on her street told her they had a backflow problems too.

Ruby Moore, one of Lenoir's neighbors, says she watched in early July utility workers frantically clearing the sewer line.

"The city was out there. There was a whole lot of water coming out from it," Moore said. "And if I'm not mistaken there was a slight smell."

6 On Your Side went with Lenoir to the utilities board office. We asked to speak with Robert Bettis, the manager. We were told he was in a meeting when we visited.

Bettis hasn't responded to our calls.

Mrs. Lenoir doesn't know what it is going to cost to flush out and disinfect the fixtures in her home, to remove damaged carpeting and wallboard.

She says her limited fixed income only goes so far.

"I just want to come home and get out of that hotel. I'm losing it," she said.

You would likely feel the same way if this were your house.

Mrs. Lenoir says if her husband were alive, he would know what to do. He died five months ago.

Now alone, she says she is at a loss.

Because the utility company says they're not responsible for the backflow mess, Lenoir has contacted a cleaning company.


You can see Don Dare's 6 On Your Side reports every Monday and Wednesday on 6 News at 5:00.

If you have a consumer question send Don an email at ddare@wate.com or call his 6 On Your Side hotline at (865) 633-5974.

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