O’FALLON, Mo. – When a family from O’Fallon in St. Charles County returned home to find their entire basement swamped with raw sewage and human waste, it was a nightmare.

It was because of a backup in the city’s main sewer, which had apparently become clogged with tree roots and other materials.

The struggle for the family is that they can’t get much help. Their house was declared a biohazard. They had to relocate to a hotel for three weeks with two children, one of whom is a four-year-old with special needs. The cleanup cost $10,000, and another $7,000 was needed to replace floors and walls. The cost kept rising.

It’s been heartbreaking for Rylee Rooneo and her husband, Jason.

“Now, the city is telling us that they’re not liable even though they’ve had our lateral scoped, and it’s 100 percent not on us,” she said. “They agree with us that there’s nothing that we could have done to prevent this. They’re saying that it’s deemed an act of God because we have to prove that they knew about it and didn’t do something about it before it became a problem.”

“Probably close to $40,000 to $50,000,” Rooneo said when asked for the price of repairing the damages.

The City of O’Fallon has a special program for people suffering losses from sewer back-ups, but that only provides a maximum of $3,000, far below what the family needs. The family’s insurance company will only pay $10,000, saying the accident was the city’s fault.

Jason said he too, finds this hard to believe.

“It’s incredibly frustrating. Everything was fine, and then when I left for work and get back, everything is covered in actual human sewage,” he said. “We’re just kind of abandoned to deal with it ourselves.”

“The city operates the sewer system for many on the north side of O’Fallon,” said Tony Michalka, communications director for the City of O’Fallon. “When things are introduced to the line that we aren’t aware of then we don’t have a way of knowing to go out there and clear those lines. The city is liable if we knew there was an issue, and we didn’t take action to clear that issue or if we introduced something to that line.”

A spokesperson for the City of O’Fallon had this advice for homeowners:

“We encourage all residents to work with their private homeowners insurance to make sure they have separate riders for sewer backups.”

However, Rooneo’s homeowner insurance will only pay a fraction of the $40,000 tab needed to try to get back on their feet again.

“I guess to the city, I’d say we’re more than a file; we’re more than a case number,” Rooneo said. “We’re a family, and this is our home; this is something that comes across your desk once or twice a day; this is our lives.”