Two weeks after hurricane Harvey, Soni Herrera is trapped at her home – a home she and her family cannot yet live in.
Like many of the tens of thousands of Houstonians flooded out of their houses, Ms. Herrera, her husband, Jaime, and their four children benefited from the indiscriminate bravery of her community during and immediately after the storm. Neighbors helped them flee as the floodwaters crept under their doorway and rose past their knees. Friends took them in, squeezing them and another family of five into a three-bedroom home within earshot of the controlled explosions at the Arkema chemical plant.
But now, particularly for low-income families like the Herreras – Jaime is an analog x-ray technician, while Soni is on disability – the receding waters have only exposed a new raft of challenges.
Children need food, clothes, and a place to sleep. Flooded homes have to be cleaned out. Long waits in lines for donations, and on hold for relief claims, have to be endured. Plans for the school year have to be made.
For nine days, Herrera wrestled with these problems at her friends’ house. It took days before she was able to tell her sister her family was all right. She was on hold for 1 hour and 47 minutes with the Federal Emergency Management Agency before the call dropped. With Herrera and her young autistic son diagnosed with conditions that weaken their immune system, going to a shelter is not an option. After nine days, they were able to book a hotel for one night. They haven’t been able to secure temporary housing through FEMA, so they’ve been devoting hours each day to driving around the city searching for another room for another night – all while gutting their home, finding food and supplies for their children, and starting the claims process with FEMA.
A week earlier, when the demolition began, hives broke out all over Mr. Herrera’s tattooed skin after ripping Sheetrock out of their waterlogged walls. But with the help of local church volunteers recruited by Herrera’s sister, the gutting of their home for the past four years is almost complete.
It affords a rare moment of rest for Mrs. Herrera, and she sets down her walking stick and eases onto a bench under a tree in her yard. The sodden contents of her home are piled up around her, drying in the sun. Rotting Sheetrock and floorboards are piled on the side of the street. The house had never flooded before Harvey dropped…