Dave Rogers / For The Record

 

Three weeks after Hurricane Harvey surprised and submerged Orange County with historic flooding, there are hundreds – maybe thousands — of citizens who want to come home from sheltering out of town.

But they have no place to stay.

Their houses and apartments are wrecked.

So far, local governments are waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Administration to OK a shelter in Orange County.

“The shelter program is a county-wide effort,” Shawn Oubre, Orange city manager, said during a city council meeting Tuesday.

“It is bigger than the resources the city has to provide — logistics, security, medical, all that stuff. The city in this case is not big enough to handle short-term sheltering.”

How big is the need?

Johnny Trahan, county commissioner for Precinct 1, which includes old Orange and the northeast corner of the county, said he heard there were 750 citizens needing housing so they can come back and rebuild their homes and lives.

“But that’s probably not inclusive of everybody,” he said.

Not knowing how many people are missing is wrong, Annette Pernell, Orange council member, said. She believes we’re all to blame.

“It’s a huge issue,” she said. “We haven’t heard the exact numbers either.

“I’m telling you right now, it’s our fault that we haven’t heard the numbers, because we didn’t reach out to make sure the people were taken care of, to make sure that if people had to move, because their places were gone, that we kept tabs on them.

“And letting them know that we’re going to have a place for them to come back to.”

Pernell was in no mood to pass the buck Tuesday morning.

“I keep hearing, ‘Well, that’s the county, that’s the county.’

“The county consists of individual cities which make up the county. You can’t expect the county to keep track of every person in every little city.

“That’s why we’re here. We need to take care of our city, because as it stands, we’re not going to have a city.

“Who wants to come back? If you don’t care about me while I’m here, why would I come back?”

Oubre said he had studied the negative effects of displaced citizens.

“I’ve done a lot of studying on it: the need, the desire for somebody to be connected to their home, whether it’s an apartment or an established house,” he said.

“If you break that continuity, they’re probably never coming back. That’s why it’s important to get them back here with some normalcy in their life so they can reconnect with their church and their business and their job.”

The state has established a tent city at the civic center in Port Arthur for that city’s citizens who were displaced from their homes or their apartments.

FEMA trailers were used extensively in Bridge City for temporary housing after Hurricane Ike.

But neither option has been OK’d by FEMA so far, report Oubre and Stephen Brint Carlton, the Orange County judge.

“The state is out of tents,” Carlton said, “and, as far as FEMA trailers, that’s not an option, either. They don’t have enough to bring in.”

Carlton and many of the area’s mayors met with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Saturday, Sept. 9, in Beaumont, and they arranged a sit-down with FEMA brass last week.

That’s where Carlton learned about STEP.

“It’s a program between the state of Texas and FEMA. Instead of putting people into trailers or some other kind of temporary housing, FEMA will have contractors come in.

“They will tear out all the flooded materials in someone’s home. They will check electrical, check the plumbing, then put new sheetrock back up.

“It makes the home livable again, so they can get back in there again. It’s not going to be beautiful. It may not have new floors. But it’ll work. It’ll be functional.”

Carlton met with George P. Bush, commissioner for the General Land Office, Monday afternoon.

“He was talking about the GLO taking the lead in sheltering, trying to get people back to their home areas. They are working with FEMA to develop a new program. Instead of STEP, it’s going to be called PREP.”

Carlton said Tuesday he was also eyeing another tent provider.

“We’re looking at going a different route through a different company that does these things,” the judge said.

“They can construct the tents. They can do the bathrooms, the showers, the laundry, the food, all that kinda stuff. Also manning it, the security.

“We’re still trying to work that route, but get essentially a different vendor.”

The structure would hold up to 500 people, the judge said.

“We’re looking at some of the different sporting fields in the county to see if that might be one of the places to put it,” Carlton said.

FEMA has set up Disaster Recovery Centers in Bridge City and in Deweyville. DRCs offer a single location where citizens can file a claim, check on the status of a claim or have a face-to-face conversation with a staffer to help with recovery.

So far, there are no DRCs in the county seat of Orange and by Tuesday afternoon no reliable word of when one will open.

“We’ve been told we were going to receive one since Friday of last week,” Oubre said.

“Part of the holdup has been that all the places we’ve been trying to get, whether it be Northway [Shopping Center] or some of the other places they’ve been before, we kind of struck out on getting anything from them,” Carlton said.

“So what we did instead, we put in a request for a mobile center, like Deweyville. We’ve asked for two of those.”