Like a convict on death row, Frances Prescott spends her life in a gas chamber waiting for the poison to kill her.
Red and Frances Prescott’s home in the southern George County community of Basin has been invaded by black mold that is spreading through their ceiling and walls. Some of the airborne mold spores have started growing in Frances Prescott’s lungs, slowly suffocating her to death. Chained to an oxygen tank by its plastic tubing, Prescott, 70, must stay in her home because she has nowhere else to go. Her “Home Sweet Home” has become her prison.
Most of the mold can’t be seen because it’s hidden inside the walls, attaching itself to the sheetrock like white bread left in the wrapper too long. Other areas in their house show big brown spots, like coffee stains on a paper towel. There’s a stain the size of a softball on her bedroom ceiling just four or five feet away from the bed she sleeps in. At night, as she’s sucking oxygen from a huge machine to stay alive, the mold continues to spread.
The Prescotts both get by on Social Security checks in their mailbox once a month. They don’t have the money to buy another mobile home and their children aren’t in a position to take them in. Their only solution is to tear the trailer down and build another framed building in its place. “The doctor told her plain and simple to get out or make sure her burial insurance was paid up because it’s going to kill her,” he said.
The mold first made its appearance after Hurricane Georges hit the Coast in 1998. After the storm, which ripped several holes in their ceiling, water was left standing an inch or two deep in their carpet.
Red Prescott, 71, who has worked construction since he was 12, had already started remodeling the modest single-wide trailer, so he let it dry out, fixed the roof, put hardwood floors in and continued his renovations. “I didn’t realize that after it dried out I needed to rip the whole thing out. I covered it up. I remodeled the whole thing. It’s in the walls, the ceiling, the floors,” he said. “I thought the problem was solved, but I just made the problem.
The Prescotts never received any money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for structural damage, but they did receive a check earmarked for purchase of furniture only. “Even though we had all this water damage and everything was wet and just totally destroyed in here, FEMA gave her $700 to buy a piece of furniture,” he said.
She got symptoms about a year and a half ago. Doctors began treating her for lung disease, but when she had open heart surgery in September they discovered the mold. “That’s when they did the biopsy on her lungs and said she had the fungus growing in her lungs,” he said. Doctors told them that the mold must be in their house. “She can get to where she’s just at the point of passing out ’cause she can’t breathe, she goes to the hospital and she’s breathing good. She comes back home and three or four days later she’s back to where she can’t breathe so it’s in this house,” he said.
Their home must be replaced. “This has got to be torn down to the ground and the ground underneath the house treated,” he said. “If we kill it here where she lives she won’t be breathing new, but we don’t know if what she’s already breathed will ever leave,” he said. They have tried to get assistance, but haven’t had much success. “We’ve called the Red Cross, Salvation Army and FEMA and EPA. We’ve called anyone with a telephone number,” he said.
Family and friends are having two back-to-back benefits to raise the $10,000 needed to rebuild a simple frame house under the 28-foot by 64-foot tin roof that covers their trailer. They’re taking orders for barbecue dinners to be delivered around George County on Friday, Nov. 15, and they’re hosting a barbecue dinner and yard sale at Wayne Lee’s Grocery in Lucedale on Saturday, Nov. 16. On Friday, customers can choose between barbecue chicken dinners with the traditional side items or the hand-pulled pork soaked with Prescott’s homemade barbecue sauce. “We’re hoping to raise enough money to frame back once this is torn down,” he said. “If I could lay my hands on $10,000 tomorrow, by Thanksgiving we’d be back in a house.
“Besides losing their home, the Prescotts have to get rid of everything else they own that can’t be washed, like the living room suite they purchased a year ago. “We’re just sitting here at the mercy of the world right now,” he said.
By Donna Harris, Southeast Mississippi