Displaced and in disarray

Laura Garcia By Laura Garcia

Sept. 7, 2017 at 10:27 p.m.
Updated Sept. 8, 2017 at 4:27 a.m.

Fernando Martinez, 8, left, and his brother Jonathan Sanchez Jr., 4, right, lie on a mattress on the floor in their living room under a water damaged ceiling with their kitten. The family home was damaged in Hurricane Harvey and deemed uninhabitable by FEMA.

Fernando Martinez, 8, left, and his brother Jonathan Sanchez Jr., 4, right, lie on a mattress on the floor in their living room under a water damaged ceiling with their kitten. The family home was damaged in Hurricane Harvey and deemed uninhabitable by FEMA.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Cindy Barrientes donated her last $5 to Hurricane Harvey at a checkout lane Wednesday night.

This turned out to be good karma because a few hours later she learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would help her financially.

"I just don't know how to use it," Barrientes said. "I'm not sure when or how it will come in."

FEMA deemed her apartment unfit for habitation.

The problem is she doesn't know where to go.

She is not alone. Many others are in the same situation in Victoria County just two weeks after the Category 4 storm.

Barrientes, 27, lives in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment next door to her sister on Oaklawn Street.

Both homes were hit hard with broken windows and mildew starting to set in with much of their furniture and personal belongings ruined.

Five months pregnant with her fourth child and living on limited means, Barrientes and her older sister are at a loss for what to do next.

Barrientes' husband works construction, but because of the evacuation, he was out of work for several days.

Like many families, they spent what little they had evacuating town.

They left the day after Harvey hit because there was no electricity or drinking water.

The sisters know they need to leave the residence because it's unsafe.

Cindy Barrientes said she just wants the deposit back and needs some more time.

Her landlord, Gloria Hernandez, said she might have to take her tenants to court to settle a variety of disputes.

For now, the stay-at-home mom is sleeping in the living room on a donated mattress with her children, who are 8 and 4 years old and 6 months old.

Another challenge is when the family came back to check on their pets, they got into a car accident in town.

On their second trip home, their van broke down in Smiley and thanks to a kind woman in a big truck, they were able to stay overnight in an RV on her ranch nearby.

They didn't get her name, but thank God that she stopped after so many kept driving past.

Now that they are back home, they are at a standstill. They are supposed to vacate the apartment by Sunday.

"It's stressful. It really is," said Angela Barrientes, 30.

They said they feel overwhelmed but are thankful for the food a local church has been dropping off.

"This is the worst situation I've ever been in," Cindy Barrientes said through tears.

Rural needs

Children are sleeping on mold-covered couches, on bare floors and in cars in Bloomington as the community works to clean up the damage left two weeks ago by Hurricane Harvey.

First Baptist Church in the small unincorporated town doesn't have a pastor, but the congregation was compelled to open its doors to those in dire need.

Chuck McMichael, a Goliad resident and church member, realized just how bad the needs were one week after the storm that damaged 75 percent of the town.

He said two women from out-of-town went door to door and found a man who had suffered a stroke.

Another team found that a tree had cut a trailer in half with a family of five still huddled inside.

He hesitated before giving yet another example of hardship - other volunteers saw several unclothed children running around days after the storm.

"We've just been hearing these nightmare stories," he said, shaking his head. "That was pretty sobering."

One of the only stores in town was closed because of substantial hurricane damage and many people who were already poor are surviving on material donations that steadily stream in to local churches.

Donors from Coleman and other businesses, sent in gallons of gas. Two volunteers from First Baptist Church in El Campo gave Bloomington residents five gallons of gas at a time this week in a field across from the church.

McMichael said they serve up to 1,000 hot meals a day because of Bum Phillips Charities and others.

The church also has an indoor area where people can come in and grab necessities such as baby items and bedding.

"There were a lot of people who were just trapped and lost everything," he said. "These people are hurting."

His wife of 30 years, Mary Lynn McMichael, who is also the choir director, walks by with a family that's in need of a health check.

A nurse from Tulsa, Okla., and a physician's assistant from Pittsburgh, who came into town with Convoy of Hope, set up a makeshift medical clinic in the church on Thursday.

Rosemary Mendez, 56, was one of the first residents in line for a quick check.

It's been just over one year since she had a liver transplant that saved her life.

Now she's worried her persistent cough is because of the mold in her home.

"It scares me. I can't take chances," she said.

Her daughter and 76-year-old mother will help her clean out the home, which sustained water damage in the living room and bedroom.

Mendez said there was a hole from when a tree fell through her roof, but she's thankful that her ex-husband patched up the damage.

It's for this reason that the First Baptist Church in Bloomington is calling for 300 air mattresses.

Housing authority

Brandy Hilbrich, acting-executive director of the Victoria Housing Authority, said the majority of its public housing residents are able to stay in their homes. Only one person has to move next door because of the damage.

She said the maintenance director had planned and arranged to have a contractor on standby. Two days after the storm and they were already placing tarps on roofs and cleaning up debris.

"We were very fortunate," she said. "It could have been a lot worse for us."

The housing authority has 321 units designated for the public housing program and another 258 vouchers for Section 8 housing.

Some of those families in the Section 8 program may be displaced because those apartment complexes, like Caney Run Estates, were damaged by the hurricane.

Hilbrich said those 16 or so residents that they've heard from still have vouchers issued and will be looking for new homes.

She said they are trying to give people direction and help connect them with other properties that may have vacancies.

"Everybody has really gathered to help out," she said. "Our staff has been in every single apartment."

Flood zone

Esther Casal, 68, told her employer that she would need some time off as she works through repairing the mud-coated home she lives in with her two adult sons.

She works as a cashier at Goodwill and lives near the Guadalupe River in a home that her parents purchased in 1958.

"When they passed, I just stayed here," she said.

For the next two months or so, she'll likely stay with her sister in Victoria.

Thankfully, she has insurance and is dealing with recovering from both flood and hurricane wind damage.

Still, the family will have to pull out and replace all the baseboards and bring a water hose in the house to clear out the mud.

"I'm gonna need a vacation after this," she said.

Even though her home will probably see another flood, Casal would probably not move because she's on a limited income.

That's why she turned down the buyout program during the last major flood.

"It would be really hard," she said. "The prices they were doing it for wasn't even enough for a down payment on a home."

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

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

City: Water cloudy but still safe to drink

Residents still without power 2 weeks after Harvey

South Florida braces for 'nuclear hurricane'

Foot Center begins shoe drive for Harvey victims


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