County rebuilds after Ike’s devastation
Some say Ike’s winds were stronger than Rita’s. Others say not.
But all agree the flooding was worse than the storm of three years ago, leading to acts of heroism by authorities and residents; tragedies despite the best of efforts and a feeling of relief that Ike is gone.
And while some have seen federal checks and help from neighbors, many do not feel relief in their wallets or from government dollars.
They sit in the Federal Emergency Management Agency tent at the Orange County Courthouse, fanning themselves on a hot October day.
Waiting to talk to someone, and hoping they will listen.
Ben Heinz of Bridge City, which took a major chunk of the damage, got five feet of water in his home. “I stayed through the storm with my mom and some of her coworkers at Mobil Credit Union in Beaumont,” he said.
He and Spencer Fuselier, also of Bridge City, managed to find some restoration work in Orange to stay solvent; tending generators at the courthouse with Global Restoration Group. Fuselier evacuated to Arkansas.
“When I got back, we found ourselves throwing out everything we owned except the frames of the house,” he said.
The old courthouse’s cellar is being cleaned, forcing many staffers into the newer administration building.
Some sorted papers in County Judge Carl Thibodeaux’s outer office Monday, sitting on the floor while a coworker came by to offer plastic chairs.
“The [FEMA] trailers coming in are going slow,” Thibodeaux said.
“We’re still battling the issue of temporary housing. Hopefully things will start looking better. I’m sure some people have gotten some federal money. But you never hear from them, only the ones who haven’t.”
A worker at the FEMA tent who declined to give his name, said it was being erroneously reported that FEMA trailers could be applied for at the tent. “You can register through FEMA for a building inspector to assess your home,” he said. “But then the home will have to be inspected later.”
At the tent, residents can get information from the Texas Department of Insurance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration and FEMA, he said.
The deputies’ presence in Bridge City will be there “ … as long as it takes,” said Sheriff Mike White.
Capt. David Peck said some 200 people were rescued the morning after the storm from Bridge City’s Victory Gardens, Dugas Addition and other areas. They were taken to the Pilot truck stop on Texas 62, then transferred to a shelter at North Orange Baptist Church. Guilbeaux’s Wrecker Service and businessman Pete Cloeren provided large vehicles, and Orange County Road and Bridge sent in some dump trucks. “I know I’m leaving someone out,” he said. “It’s hard to put all of this together this soon after the storm. You just did what you could do and what you had to work with.” Later that day, he said, relief officials from outside the county began arriving. “Our communicators and dispatchers did an excellent job. I commend each and every one of them,” he said.
The Rev. Sid Thorne of First Church of God, near the Orange police station, said his congregation’s faith will help sustain them through tough times. “We got about three to four feet of water,” he said. “We’ve gutted the place out. We realize there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”
Bridge City City Hall is under renovation, as well. In a makeshift city council meeting this week at the Bridge City Community Center, surrounded by paper towels, flashlights, canned food, clothes and bottled water; Mayor Kirk Roccaforte said FEMA trailers were arriving in the city. “They supply only what are called ‘Park Models’ now,” he said, which are larger than the old travel-trailers seen after Rita. “I can’t tell you how many we’ll get, but some will be in parks, and some where homes are unlivable or near still-standing locations so the residents there won’t have to [be displaced] very far.”
As council members praised the efforts of Roccaforte and City Manager Jerry Jones, Councilman David Rutledge added, “Let’s not forget the citizens. They did a whole heck of a job.” Roccaforte added, “There’s no way two people can do this. It’s definitely a group effort to do the things in the city we’re doing now.”
Motiva Crews, church groups and others still seek input from people who need home or structure assistance. Bridge City / Orangefield residents who need help may call city hall at 735-6801, Jones said. Permits are required for all structures with hurricane damages including flooding, he said. “Homes built after 1983 are in compliance with the eight-feet elevation rule and can be repaired immediately,” he said. “Substantial damage” is determined when the cost exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure to be repaired or improved, he said.
In a statement provided to The Record Newspapers by Orange Mayor Brown Claybar, he said, “Every one of us owes our emergency operations community a great deal of gratitude.” He added, “Hurricane Rita was known as the forgotten hurricane. It was forgotten by Washington and overshadowed by the highly-publicized Katrina. I am very pleased to report that our national and state elected officials have all toured the area and I have had face-to-face contact with them; and relayed to them the dire consequences of this storm. I have been assured by them that we will not be forgotten in the … funding … necessary to financially recover.”
In West Orange, where City Secretary Theresa Van Metre estimated 50 to 80 percent of homes had been damaged, applications needed to be applied for damaged homes. Regular permit fees would apply to businesses, but “homesteaders” or those who own their own home will not be required to pay. Dumpsters may be rented from the city at $25 for three days, she said.
Refrigerators and freezers may be brought to the A. Schulman Plant on Burnett Road from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. They should be emptied, with all food items removed and closed with duct tape. Carpet, furniture and green waste can be placed curbside in separate piles. “These items will be picked up as quickly as possible,” she said.
For more information, call West Orange City Hall at 883-3468.
Other cities have similar rules, but all jurisdictions are not the same.
For information, call Vidor City Hall at 769-0150; the city of Orange at 883-1070, the city of Pinehurst at 886-3873; and for unincorporated areas of the county and Rose City or Pinehurst, 745-1410.
According to a release from Lone Star Legal Aid, FEMA can help with hotel bills for evacuees (see the eligibility list at femavachotels.com); provide assistance with rent, help to replace personal belongings and with child support, Social Security checks, “renters’ rights” and people who can’t work because of the hurricane. For more information, call FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or go to www.fema.gov; or Lone Star Legal Aid at 1-800-733-8394.
Joel Ardoin, a county health inspector and this year’s festival chairman for the annual Orange Lions Carnival, said the popular Flying Bobs ride is probably “ … out for this year.” The event, originally slated for Sept. 24, will obviously be postponed as the fairgrounds are right along Adams Bayou, flooded by Ike.
“A lot of the [rides’] motors were damaged and will have to be sent off for repair,” he said. “Right now we have no rides, and that’s not much of a carnival.” Lions members will meet Saturday to determine a new date. The carnival was canceled only once in its long history, one year during World War II.
Pam Scales Crew, a member of the Pinehurst Labor Day Picnic Committee, she said it was on the skids for now.
The picnic was reset from the Gustav evacuation, but obviously with Ike it will have to be rescheduled again, she said. “There’s just so many people out of pocket right now,” she said.
Crew reports that her mother, Virgie Scales, 96, a longtime newspaper woman, evacuated to Ennis.
She lives off Highway 408 between Bridge City and Orangefield, and said to have had five feet of water in her home.