Ike boxed for the Holidays
Temporary housing is the new vogue in Bridge City. That’s the trend since Hurricane Ike. Where it is not is bare and vacant homes, either waiting the return of displaced residents, or to be sold. Big trucks drag bright, boxy trailers through tight streets and plug them in wherever they can. Eager homeowners soon adapt to modular living.
But only about one-fourth of the homeowners affected by Hurricane Ike have received FEMA housing in Bridge City. Many residents have purchased or rented travel trailers and motor homes on their own. Some aren’t as fortunate, and for others, “home for the holidays” means somewhere else.
According to Bridge City Mayor Kirk Roccaforte, there are about 850 FEMA trailers in Bridge City more than two months since Hurricane Ike flooded the area Sept. 13. “We need 1,800-2,000 units, minimum, right now,” he said, “We need them getting here faster. We need about 75 units arriving a day and we’re getting just a few at a time.”
Immediate housing is vital to the community’s recovery. “They say there is a problem with supply,” Roccaforte said, “Well they need to correct the problem with supply.”
Nevertheless, trailers are becoming a way of life in the neighborhoods here where every size, shape, make and model. can be found. Local residents are adjusting to tighter quarters close to their damaged homes.
Lucille, 92, bunks with Lemoines
Ninety-three year old Lucille Myers has resumed her hobby of quilting near the window of a FEMA two-bedroom. Lucille would have been married to Alvin Myers for 70 years in 2005, but he died that July. She is grateful for the 69 years she had. Just around the corner on Arthur Street was the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Jimmy and Elaine Lemoine. It was an easy drive for Lucille who renewed her driver’s licence at 92 and often used it.
The three adults share the trailer installed in the Lemoine’s front yard. “Harley,” a retriever, lives there too. The unit arrived three weeks ago.
Myers lost her home in the flood. So did the Lemoines, “ … three-feet deep or more.” Neither home had flood insurance. FEMA came through with money but mainly personal savings is restoring the Lemoine home. Myers’ house on Bernice Street has been gutted and is waiting to be sold. Otherwise, Thanksgiving finds them living well.
“We’ve got most of what we need,” says Elaine Lemoine, “We can make do.”
She compares the new model FEMA box to those used after Hurricane Rita. “These are much nicer,” she said.
James Lemoine, 65, retired from the Sears and Roebuck store in Port Arthur in 1998. Since then he has dabbled in classic cars. His 1962 Corvette was a casualty of the storm. As were many personal treasures.
The trio had evacuated to Jennings, La., to a family farm. LeMoine returned Sept. 15, after the storm.
“You hear much sadder stories than ours,” he said, “and things are a lot better than they were.”
The Lemoines hope to be back in their home by Christmas, but are doubtful. The active senior citizen, Myers, will reside there with them. The couple constructed the quilting loom for her from PVC piping.
“We haven’t thought that much about it being Thanksgiving yet,” says Elaine, who like many here, are trying to get back in step with the seasons. “The kitchen isn’t big enough to cook that kind of meal. But we’ll do something.”
“I’ll sit on apple crates if I have to get back in my home,” she said.
When frustrated ‘laugh’ as housing goes by, Siau family holiday
If anyone needs FEMA housing assistance it’s Thomas and Reba Siau. Siau’s home on Jones Street will never be livable. Spray painted on the heavily flooded, abandoned residence is the words “Free Mud!” A rainy Monday before Thanksgiving didn’t help the situation.
The couple and their daughter Marissa Gerick, 24, and her son Kayden, 4, share a 28-foot Puma travel trailer. On weekends Thomas Siau, Jr., 4, joins them. It’s a snug fit. They watch FEMA housing being pulled up and down the street.
“We had to buy something to live in,” Reba said, “We couldn’t wait on FEMA.”
Uninsured, the family received disaster funds but were told they had to elevate the wood frame home. “Once you consider the cost of jacking it up, replacing the plumbing, electrical, walls, flooring, everything: it isn’t worth it,” Siau said. Instead, they decided to dismantle it hoping to salvage some of the wood and start over.
They like the idea of a house up high, “beach camp style in the back of the property,” she said. In the meantime, housing assistance from FEMA has been bogged down by mistakes and red tape. And there is the mud.
“It’s very muddy and that’s annoying,” she said, “conditions are cramped and there isn’t much privacy.” The water heater is six gallons, “that’s an issue, and the shower is extremely small.”
Thomas Siau is an employee of the city of Beaumont. Reba is employed by Bridge City Family Pharmacy, formerly Harrington’s on Texas Avenue. The family evacuated to McLewis and returned days later to find their home and contents destroyed.
She doesn’t expect that they will be able to rebuild until late summer. “The closeness makes it bearable,” she said, “We don’t sit around and think about the misery. We find things to laugh about and try to maintain a sense of normalcy.”
Thomas is frying a turkey for Thanksgiving. They plan to make plates to deliver to other family members in the area. “Get some hugs and come back home,” she said.
‘Making the best of things’ Chance family plans Thanksgiving
Patty and James Chance are “making the best of things” this holiday season. Living quarters aren’t so bad but it’s certainly not home.
The Mountain Aire 35-foot travel trailer in the front yard of their flooded Arthur Street residence is the next best thing to being there.
The couple moved the rental in the front yard of their property in October to get their son Shannon, 10, back in school. “We couldn’t wait on FEMA for a trailer, plus we wanted to be back home,” Patty said.
Last Sunday she was between laundromats. James was still hauling swamp vegetation from the storm piled along the back fence to the street. The house is empty but all things considered, not so bad.
The trailer is an older model but plush. Cable TV and Internet are connected. From the porch is a panoramic view of the neighborhood filling up with mobile homes.
“We feel pretty fortunate,” Patty said. “We have conveniences, just not a lot of room.”
Hurricane Ike did the same type of damage to the Chance home as it did to most in Bridge City. The home was insured, however, and repairs are underway. For now, keeping up with the laundry and living small is the best way to get by.
“There is less room for storage so I buy less at a time,” Patty said, “I don’t cook big meals. I use a skillet more than the stove.”
James, an employee of Williams Fire and Hazard Control in Mauriceville, stayed at the OC Emergency Management staging area during the storm. Patty and Shannon evacuated to Arkansas with family. Chance was able to get access to his home Sunday after the storm. He and stepson Andrew Delano, 23, discarded perishables and notified Patty of the situation. The family was reunited a week later and began doing the “tear-out” on their home.
The trailer eventually provided refuge.
“We have to basically start over,” he said, “All of the appliances and furniture were ruined.” He laments the loss of his carpentry tools.
In the weeks after the storm, meals delivered by the Orange County Red Cross helped keep the family fed. A church group with the Agape Christian Center in Groves arrived Oct. 19 for Mid County Kindness “and basically took over and tore out tile, cabinets, walls- they cleaned everything up. That was a huge help,” Chance said.
“We lost a lot but we’re thankful for what we saved,” Patty said.
Before evacuating she had protected most of the family keepsakes in containers. “We were able to salvage most of it,” she said.
“That’s what really matters. The rest is just material things.”
The Chance family is considering decorating the trailer in lights for the Christmas season. The idea is sure to catch on. “And we’ll have a Christmas tree if I have to put it out on the porch,” Chance said.