By Carl Thibodeaux
Orange County Judge

[Editor’s note: The curfew from midnight to 6 a.m. in Orange County will be lifted effective Thursday at dusk, according to Judge Carl Thibodeaux, who provided this column to The Record Newspapers late Wednesday. Thibodeaux and other officials attended a meeting with federal authorities regarding assistance Wednesday; a meeting in which the press was not allowed. Thibodeaux and Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose later commented that not much was accomplished. “We didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know,” Thibodeaux said.]

Well, another hurricane has come and gone. Who would have thought the damage would have been this bad. This was the first time orange county would have a storm surge. Since I have been county judge, I have had to deal with two tropical storms and four hurricanes. Ike is the worst one.

The areas of Orange County north of Interstate 10 sustained wind damage and some water issues. However, the areas south of I-10 had major damage and destruction. Every home in Rose City had water damage, 98 percent of Bridge City had damage, with the area south of Texas 87 sustaining massive storm surge damage with homes completely destroyed. The south side of West Orange and Orange’s “Cove” area were severely damaged as well at the east end of Orange. Storm surge is unforgiving and the recovery will be larger and more difficult than Hurricane Rita.

Orange County was able to evacuate the special needs and also handle mandatory evacuation in just 27 hours. This is 21 hours less than our evacuation plan. Orange County Emergency Management was well aware of the storm surge danger. This was the factor we based our mandatory evacuation on. There were some problems that occurred and those will be reviewed and changes will be made. However, I am extremely proud of the citizens of orange county and all the emergency management department of the seven orange county cities.

The immediate response after the storm went well. All citizens who were stranded in their homes were rescued and brought to safety. Everyone in search and rescue need to be commended.

The first phase of recovery was to set up places where citizens could get water, ice and food. With help from the state Orange County was able to respond and set up facilities to serve our citizens. Once citizens started returning to Orange County things really started happening fast. I must say the county moved faster toward recovery than any county in the state affected by Ike. At the beginning, the state had trouble keeping Orange County supplied with resources because of our speed of recovery.

Now the issue of recovery is temporary housing. This will have to be accomplished in partnership between FEMA and the state of Texas. This has caused recovery to slow to a crawl. This issue will be resolved, however, it will take time. There are issues to be addressed in regards to the flood plain map and which type of temporary housing will be used. There will be trailers on individuals property and probably the possibility of trailer parks being built. Only time will tell. The county or cities are not involved in the temporary housing issue. Regardless of what you may hear, FEMA has total control even though you may be told differently.

An important note I would like to make is the dedication of all first responders with the county, cities, industry and all non-profit and volunteer organizations. Without them, Orange County would have had a difficult time of recovery. The team members I had around me are second to none and I would serve with them anywhere and at any time. I also have to mention the unsung heroes of Orange County. These are Mayor Kirk Roccaforte, city of Bridge City; Mayor Roy McDonald, mayor of West Orange; Mayor Brown Claybar, city of Orange; Mayor T.W. Permenter of Pinehurst; Mayor Ray Long of Vidor; Mayor Jody Crump of Pine Forest and Mayor David Bush of Rose City.

Roccaforte had damage to his house and business, McDonald damage to his home, Claybar damage to two businesses and Bush damage to his home. All the mayors left their personal problems behind and stood with me to get the county back on its feet. Without their support and help, my duty as judge would have been nearly impossible to accomplish. They volunteer their time to be mayor and their citizens should thank them every time they are seen. They deserve it. They have earned by utmost respect during these trying times.

I want to personally thank all the citizens of Orange County who have buckled down and started putting their lives back together. I know it has been hard. Sometimes I feel that I have not done enough. It is very sad when I ride around the county and observe the destruction. Without you, the citizen, there would not be an Orange County. We will come back stronger than ever. Some of you will have a more difficult time recovering, however, all of Orange County stands with you for the long haul. While we recover, let us keep in mind those areas to the west of us who suffered major damage also. Let us keep them in our prayers. God bless you and may God speed your journey to recovery.