Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Sept. 5, 2017 at 10:06 p.m.
Updated Sept. 5, 2017 at 10:14 p.m.

John Larison, 61, holds a flag he had in a boat.  Larison has been living in Magnolia Beach on and off since the early '60s.  His trailer was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. He and his brindle boxer, Molly, have been living in tents since the hurricane. "You got to become countrified," he said. "I'm self-sufficient. I don't ask for nothing; I just do."

John Larison, 61, holds a flag he had in a boat. Larison has been living in Magnolia Beach on and off since the early '60s. His trailer was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. He and his brindle boxer, Molly, have been living in tents since the hurricane. "You got to become countrified," he said. "I'm self-sufficient. I don't ask for nothing; I just do."    Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

SEADRIFT - Mary Ann Guerrero, 45, watched the inspector enter her mold-choked home Tuesday afternoon and wondered what she would do if the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied her family's request for assistance.

"I have no idea," Guerrero said. "That's the scariest thing."

Like many Crossroads residents who returned to find their homes damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, Guerrero and her family face limited options in getting back on their feet. With her workplace still without power and savings rapidly diminishing, Guerrero, the sole bread-winner in the family, said she was placing all of her hopes with FEMA.

"We have our house, but we can't come home," Guerrero said.

The arrival of FEMA inspectors can take as long as five days to two weeks after assistance requests are filed, said Carmen Rodriguez, agency spokes- woman. After a request is approved, a check or direct deposit will be issued no later than a week afterward.

But Rodriguez also pointed out those time estimates may change for the victims of Hurricane Harvey - a disaster she described as unusually severe.

"We encourage the community to be patient, but keep in touch with FEMA," she said. "You can call anytime."

Despite the agency's policy of open communication, the uncertainties surrounding Guerrero's assistance request and other families' can feel almost unbearable.

"I pray to God they help (us)," Guerrero said.

Along with her boyfriend, Joe Angel, 39, Guerrero has lived at the rural Seadrift home with his parents, Olga Morales, 68, and Remigio Morales, 71, for about a year. Although Guerrero is the only household member whose health allows for a job, she said she was happy to help the others.

For Guerrero, whose children are grown and living their own lives, sharing a home and its numerous responsibilities with Angel and his parents is an opportunity to be part of a family again.

"I call them Mom and Dad," she said. "I can open my heart to them, and they can open their heart to me."

Before the hurricane, the family's home served as a gathering place for friends and family members.

Tuesday, the interior of the uninsured home was made almost impenetrable by mold, and much of the exterior lay in shambles, scattered throughout the yard.

Guerrero said the severity of the mold infestation was such that she still felt physically sick a day after inspecting the interior without a breathing mask.

She recalled the home's smell caused her boyfriend to vomit.

Unwilling to further burden friends and family members, the family has stayed mostly at hotels since the hurricane's arrival. For a family who has always worked hard to make ends meet, those hotel stays have cut deep into their savings, Guerrero said.

Although she said she hopes to return to work within days, Guerrero said when she visited The Shrimp Shack, a Seadrift restaurant where she is a hostess, the business was still without power.

"That's the only way we can make money," she said.

Seadrift Mayor Elmer DeForest said that although repair crews had returned power to the city's grid and a majority of homes, some still remained in the dark Tuesday.

The water supply, although now flowing, still required residents to boil before consuming.

On the other side of Calhoun County, Kerry Hanselka, an owner of Indianola Fishing Marina, and a volunteer student from Calhoun County High School worked to reopen the popular seaside hangout.

"I didn't even think it would be here," Hanselka said. "When Carla came through in 1961, there was nothing left."

The hurricane, despite its fury, blew the structure's doors open and filled the inside with water. But Hanselka said that damage has come as a blessing.

"We're using the damage to remodel and make it like we want to make it," he said.

Hanselka and others have removed an interior wall, installed a serving window and done other improvements.

The part-owner hoped to re-open the location within weeks to satisfy popular demand.

"When people say, 'Let's go fishing,' they don't even ask where. They come to Indianola," he said.

About five miles north in Magnolia Beach, resident John Larison, 61, thrived despite the destruction of his mobile home.

Larison, with Molly, his happy-go-lucky, 4-year-old boxer in tow, spent Tuesday bettering an outdoor camp he had established on his beachfront property. His wife was soon to arrive from Seguin, where the couple had sheltered from Harvey.

Larison, a self-described outdoorsman and modern-day pioneer, thrived shirtless in the stifling, mosquito-laden air.

He had relied on mosquito spray and smoke from a bonfire fueled with the remnants of his destroyed and dismantled mobile home to keep the bugs away.

For sustenance, he planned to rely on the crab traps and fishing poles littered around his property.

In fact, he and friends had enjoyed numerous pleasant nights around that fire since Harvey, turning his homelessness into a camping trip.

"You rough it until you get things built back," he said. "You got to become countrified."

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

Texas Zoo evacuates big cats (w/video)

Some classes resume after storm

City waives homeowners' permit fees for damage

Volunteers needed for Harvey cleanup

AEP lineman killed working to restore power

Officials: Victoria comes together after Harvey

County may seek FEMA funds to fight mosquitoes

Private water well owners should test after flood

Leaders need to help residents exit floodplain


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