By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star
The Brazos River has receded, but the concerns of Fort Bend County homeowners in some of the worst hit areas of Rosenberg and Richmond affected by the Memorial Day Flood are growing.
This after a community meeting June 20 informing residents that if they are in a floodplain and their home has more than 50 percent damage, federal guidelines say they can’t just repair the damage, they must elevate their homes. And they still have to wait for more inspections before they can repair or return to their homes.
“We know this is a difficult time for flood survivors and we want to be sure our residents know the requirements under the National Flood Insurance Program. If a resident does not follow the NFIP guidelines, they can lose eligibility for federal aid and may be subject to enforcement actions by the county,” the Office of Emergency Management said in a prepared statement.
“We also know that in some cases, these steps mean more costs and a slower recovery than some of you hope. This is why applying for any assistance possible from FEMA is critical, including SBA loans if provided,” said the OEM.
FEMA representatives hit the neighborhoods last week, entering homes, taking pictures, talking with homeowners and assessing damage. The county has also hired a private contractor to determine damage estimates to speed up the process, said Lach Mullen, an OEM spokesman.
Homeowner Norma Jean Luna is anxious about the future.
“I don’t have an answer yet, that’s what’s killing me. I don’t have an answer on when we can start repairing. I told my husband, if we get the OK to fix up or rebuild, we are definitely getting flood insurance next time,” she said.
As she sits on a chair beneath a tree in her mud covered yard, the sound of power tools occasionally drown out her voice. Her 14-year-old son and volunteers from the Texas Baptist Mens Disaster Relief fund are gutting out the walls and removing debris from the waterlogged home. The air is heavy. This is exhausting work.
After a few hours on the job, a volunteer, Ginger Himelright, had to leave but stopped to offer words of prayer to Luna while other volunteers continued. She explained their presence to a visitor, “we are Jesus’ hands and feet. We’re just volunteers who want to help flood victims where we can,” said Himelright.
The Texas Baptist Mens Disaster Relief Ministry, part of the Southern Baptist North American Mission, is the third largest voluntary disaster relief organization after the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. They train volunteers and coordinate relief efforts and are always welcoming volunteers. But no one can just walk up and start helping. Volunteers undergo orientation training and background checks. Currently they have about 50 volunteers in Rosenberg, Simonton and Conroe, said Disaster Relief Vice President Ralph Rogers. For more information on volunteering, see their website. www.texasbaptistmen.org.
The prayers and the physical help are welcome relief to Luna. This has been a rough year for the 43-year-old Lamar Consolidated Independent School District bus driver. The small Rosenberg house where she was born, located about 80 yards from the river, has never flooded in her lifetime.
She cared for her father in that home. Another relative, living alone in another small structure on the property, shared caregiving duties for the father. He died in February and willed the property to Luna and her family of five, she said.
Then three months later the rains came. The river was high but had never exceeded its banks; not in her lifetime or her father’s. They left Sunday under the mandatory evacuation. Like everyone else, she fully expected minor damage with some water in the yard.
“I said let’s just stay Sunday night and leave Monday morning. But it came up so fast. If we had stayed, our cars would have been damaged. We wouldn’t have got out,” she said.
They returned on Monday with cinder blocks to elevate the furniture but it was too late. Nearly 4.5 feet of water entered their home. Like many homeowners, she is faced with the question should she stay or should she go. She moved her family into a friend’s home in Rosenberg. Even though school is out, she was supposed to work this summer but she had to decline. There is too much work to do cleaning out her home and completing paperwork applying for disaster assistance.
FEMA CAN HELP
Most flood victims have also lost their paperwork and important documents. So far, more than 1,100 families have applied for FEMA assistance in Fort Bend County and that number is expected to rise. Many more are waiting to replace documents. FEMA is working with disaster legal services to help victims with their documents. Call 211 for the state of Texas and victims will be guided through the process.
“This is one of the hardest hit areas in Rosenberg,” said Carmen Rodriguez media spokesperson for FEMA referring to the homes in the neighborhood where Luna lives near A.W. Jackson Elementary School. The homes are small and the damage devastating.
Disaster relief organizers held a meeting at Our Lady of Guadelupe Church in Rosenberg on Monday, June 20, where more than 300 people gathered, said Rodriguez.
Eligibility was a big concern for many in this largely Hispanic neighborhood. But U.S. citizens, qualified aliens and non-citizen nationals are eligible for financial assistance, she said. Disaster assistance may also be available to a household if a parent or guardian applies on behalf of a minor child who is a U.S. citizen or “qualified alien”, said Rodriguez.
CHILDREN ARE HUNGRY
The elementary school is one of 15 drop off points in Rosenberg and Richmond for the Lunches of Love program, which provides free bags of lunch for school-aged children during the summer. Adrian Gray, creator and director of the program, said 40 percent of the families they serve were affected by the flooding. They serve more than 4,100 children daily in the two cities. Two of their distribution centers were underwater after the flooding including the Becerra Park behind A.W. Jackson Elementary. Since the volunteer based charity is housed at the First United Methodist Church in Rosenberg, no foods were lost in the flood. But families affected by the flooded distribution centers had to drive to other sites to receive their lunches.
At A.W. Jackson Elementary, volunteer Warrick Combs used the Lunches of Love van to drive his 9-year-old daughter Laila Combs and three of her friends to the school to pass out lunch bags. During summer break, children who depend on nutritious breakfast and lunches in school are sometimes left out so the Lunches of Love program serves children in Richmond and Rosenberg. They use volunteers and donors who for just $50 can ensure a child is fed for the summer. The children get 55 lunches and a box of cereal on the weekends. And child volunteers become a part by packing the goodies, decorating lunch bags and distributing the bags with a smile.
As he spoke, parents with designated red or yellow tote bags drove up to receive their lunch bags. Some area residents walked through the fields to receive the daily lunch bags for everyone under 18 years old in their home. The bags are filled with a sandwich, a granola bar, crackers and juice box. “I just want to be a help,” said child volunteer 10-year-old Abigail Sedgwick. Anyone wanting to help can see their website at www.lunchesoflove.net. The desire to help is everywhere. That’s why Rodriguez of FEMA wants residents to recognize that circumstances may change. Many flooding victims may have initially told FEMA they did not need housing help because they were living with another family member. But as weeks could stretch into months, Rodriguez wants residents to remember they can still call FEMA to request temporary housing. They could get state vouchers, checks for reimbursement or checks to find a rental until they can return to their homes. Since the May floods FEMA has distributed at least $6.5 million in Fort Bend County, said Rodriguez. For those who have been denied help, she suggests they appeal.
“The word from FEMA is not the last word,” said Rodriguez.
For more information contact FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 or register on their website www.DisasterAssistance.gov.