Hundreds devastated by Harvey in La Grange look for long-term help

A trailer home in La Grange overturned by flooding that came with Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).
A trailer home in La Grange overturned by flooding that came with Harvey. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

LA GRANGE, TX ( KXAN) — As the hundreds of people displaced by Harvey in La Grange are getting situated in temporary housing, the community is beginning the difficult transition into long-term recovery.

Janet Moerbe, mayor of the city of La Grange for the past 17 years, said that of the 300 to 400 people left homeless by the storm in her city, roughly a dozen remain at the city shelter. The rest have all been housed in hotels through FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) or are staying with other families.

Now that she knows these families have a place to stay, Moerbe said the next step is getting them into permanent housing. La Grange has had a housing shortage since before the storm, which has made it difficult to figure out where evacuees should live.

“So that is our biggest problem is to find long-term housing for people,” Moerbe said.

She and other city leaders are discussing options including annexing more land, working with private investors and getting help from local religious groups. According to her latest numbers, 174 people in La Grange living in trailer parks were displaced by Harvey, as were 74 people living in homes. The storm also damaged 32 businesses.

Moerbe drove KXAN around one of the trailer parks which was hardest hit, tearing up as she saw the piles of debris where people’s homes once stood.

“It’s been a heartbreaking experience for our community. It’s something we’ve never faced in recent times,” she said. Although, she adds that heartbreak has been eased some by the outpouring of support her city has received from around Texas and around the country.

This week, La Grange residents received assistance from groups large and small. They took in donations from the Boys & Girls Club of Madison, Wisc. A small group of friends from Arizona, Missouri and Illinois teamed up and drove into town with a trailer and handed out hot meals.

“It’s easy to just forget what’s happening here because there’s another storm, there’s another fire and there’s other things, and yet there are people who are waking up today who have nothing,” said Tracey Kreiling of Chicago, one of those friends distributing food Sunday. “This shouldn’t happen.”

Moerbe explained that her city will need to lean on donations and generosity like that in the months to come.

“One of my concerns is that because the recovery is going to be long term, that we keep resources available to (survivors) long term,” Moerbe said. “Right now we don’t have room to take any more (donations), but in a month, there will be room, and there will be need.”

The city of La Grange is encouraging residents to apply for disaster assistance through the FEMA office at the Randolph Recreation Center. Moerbe said going through the center will get survivors connected with aid faster.

Jann Tracey, a spokesperson for FEMA in Texas, explained that while there will be a time eventually when FEMA stops giving aid in La Grange, at this point FEMA does not have an expiration date for the services it’s providing.

“We just go ahead and provide what we have to provide and it is entirely up to Congress to come up with the funding,” she explained.

Through FEMA, survivors can also apply for a rental assistance program which would cover them for up to 18 months if they are able to demonstrate they have a plan of action to get their primary residence back into living condition.

Tracey explained that FEMA is aware that many of these survivors also face the challenge of a shortage of contractors and materials to make repairs. FEMA has a task force in La Grange going door to door, encouraging people to register for assistance. She noted that many people don’t realize they qualify for the help and others are afraid to apply because they are undocumented.

“I encourage anyone who has any damage at all to their personal property or their primary residence to go ahead and register,” Tracey said.

In Fayette County, to date there have been 482 applicants for assistance and FEMA has approved $1.28 million in assistance. Tracey said it is FEMA’s understanding that the city and the county will be looking to find an area that is suitable to house the survivors staying at hotels when the antiques show comes to town in a few weekends.

Moerbe added that the city has its electricity up and running as well as four of its seven water wells, but the city is still asking residents to conserve water.

If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation to recovery efforts in La Grange, give Kim with the city of La Grange a call at (979) 968-3017.

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