Bridge City DRT sets departure date

Friday, it will be six months since Hurricane Ike blew through and destroyed Bridge City, a good portion of the Cove and other areas of Orange County. 

The area was quickly flooded with volunteers and donations. Today, most organizations have left the area, another is planning to leave as others still provide assistance. 

The Church of Christ Disaster Response Team set up shop in the Bridge City-Orangefield Community Center soon after the storm. They said they would be here as long as needed and usually are at a site approximately one year. Two weeks ago, they had no deadline for leaving. Today, that has changed. The team’s departure has been set for March 31.

First, the organization offered hot meals, clothes, clean-up supplies and free labor to assist in tearing out damage in homes.

They recently shifted their focus. No longer serving meals, they still distribute clothes but are not taking donations of wearables.

“We’re in the rebuilding phase now,” said Mark Cremeans.

They have distributed more than 7,000 sheets of drywall, volunteers coming in now are installing sheetrock, helping paint and installing appliances. From time to time, plumbers and electricians volunteer, but are in shorter supply and greater demand.

The Disaster Response Team has 2,221 names on their list of people in need. The church will still send members to assist in the recovery, but will no longer be set up at the center after the end of the month. Contact numbers will be released before they leave.

Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte said FEMA has removed 15-20 trailers from Bridge City so far. “A lot of people are getting real close,” he said, referring to citizens returning to their homes. “I’m pretty much done except for cabinets.” Roccaforte said a rough estimate of people back in their homes in Bridge City would be about 30 percent. He expects that number to jump to 60-90 percent in the next six months. “Every month, things are getting better.”

Each time a home is completed, that means another contractor is freed to take on another home. Roccaforte says that is the main holdup. The situation is so overwhelming there are not enough contractors and subcontractors to go around. In some instances, people are still waiting on insurance.

Roccaforte believes school attendance is back around 90-95 percent and holding from talks with Bridge City Superintendent Jamey Harrison. Students and staff are out of school for spring break this week.

As for the city infrastructure (drainage, roads etc.), “We’re just beginning, we’re in the study phase,” he said. They don’t know where the money is going to come from. Funds have been received from the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Committee and other recovery funds are available, but it is not enough for the extent of damage. “The city is moving forward as quickly as possible. We’re doing studies on sewer, drainage, water and roads.”

Jimmy Lewis, planning director for Orange, said the city is in pretty good shape. On first estimates after the storm, the city feared 3,000 homes had been flooded. Luckily, most of the homes in the historic district were high enough, water never entered the residences. The final tally on  the flood showed the number of homes affected was around 900, which is less than one third of the original figure, with the lions share of homes in the Cove. “Most of the people are in a stable condition, either in a FEMA trailer or back in their homes,” said Lewis. “We’re getting more houses online everyday. We’re looking pretty good.”

He said the county has completed their debris pickup and it is up to the cities to take care of the rest. 

The city of Orange’s infrastructure did not receive the same amount of damage as Bridge City. According to Lewis, at Tuesday mornings city council meeting it was decided to sign a contract to have the storm drains cleaned. 

Orange has received enough disaster recovery money to rebuild city properties that were damaged including the fire station, neighborhood community center, police station, animal shelter and the Emma Wallace Center which administers Meals on Wheels and a senior program.

On the business front, things are also on the turnaround.

Only about 15 percent of the businesses in Bridge City have no plans to re-open, according to Janelle Sehon of the Bridge City Chamber. But, she is quick to add that there are several new businesses coming into town. Some businesses had to relocate, like Trendz and Barbara’s Photography. Luv Lingerie will also relocate, but hasn’t found the right space. Some of the businesses lost include Pizza Hut, Novrozsky’s, Tropical Tan, The Gym and Excel School of Dance. Bridge City gained Anytime Fitness, Rose Thayer Academy of Dance, Kam Wa Chinese buffet, just to name a few. McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Dairy Queen and Gary’s Cafe all plan to re-open.              

Sabrina Gray of the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce reported, “Orange is back in business and on the grow.” She said there have been several new businesses that have opened since the storm. Most businesses have reopened, but a few are still under repair. “I encourage everybody to drive down the street and see the progress that has been made.”

First Christian Church of Orangefield also continues to aid in recovery. The small church on Farm Road 408 has housed volunteers from around the country that have come to work on homes either damaged or destroyed. “These mission groups come in, work during the day, cook meals at the church building and spend the nights in sleeping bags, air mattresses or cots in the different classrooms,” said a press release from the church.

A group from Lamar, Mo. that came the week between Christmas and New Year, will return next week to not only work on homes but also host a revival. 

Recently, First Christian has housed congregations from Chandler, Ariz. and Ohio. A Kentucky group is coming the week of March 22, while there will be Indiana arrivals the week of March 29.

“More groups from other states are planning to come in the next few month. These people expect no pay. Some are retired, some take their vacations to come, some take a few days off work and some are students on school breaks,” stated the release. “All are coming just to show the love of Jesus to people in this area.”

One Bridge City homeowner recently called about a group of college students that were scheduled to come with the World Hope organization. The organization pulled out, but the kids came anyway and worked all week on her home and several others.

“I don’t have any doubt we will recover,” said Roccaforte with conviction. “This is a very strong, very close community. They pulled themselves up by their boot straps, never cried, screamed or hollered and never looked back.”

About Penny LeLeux

Penny has worked at The Record Newspapers since 2006. A member of the editorial staff, she has "done everything but print it." Most frequently she writes entertainment reviews and human interest stories, with a little paranormal thrown in from time to time.She has been a lifelong member of the Orangefield community.