Family moves into FEMA trailer after Harvey

Crystal Hernandez, 27, left, and Crystal Estrada, 28, play with their dog Addy and puppies in front of their FEMA trailer.

Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

MISSION VALLEY – A large stack of twisted scrap metal lay in a pile in front of Crystal Hernandez’s blue and white home.

The heap of metal once held significant meaning to Hernandez and her family of four. It used to shield them from the outside elements and storms, keeping them cool on hot summer Texas days and warm during the winter.

But when Hurricane Harvey swept through the Crossroads in August, the Category 4 winds peeled the roof off their uninsured mobile home like a lid on a container.

"Those pieces of metal used to be the roof and a part of our home," Hernandez, 27, said. "Now they’re just pieces."

It’s been five months since Hurricane Harvey barreled through Texas, and many residents are still recovering and beginning the process of rebuilding their homes.

In late December, the family was able to move into a new mobile home issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The trailer is one of the first provided by FEMA in Victoria.

Harvey brought nothing but stress to the family, Hernandez said. She and her family – her two young sons, Anthony Hernandez and Nathan Suarez, and her girlfriend, Crystal Estrada – evacuated to San Antonio to avoid Harvey. They stayed in San Antonio for five weeks after the storm, unable to go back to their home.

The boys, ages 10 and 7, were temporarily enrolled in a San Antonio school while they were waiting to figure out what their next step would be.

"We had no idea what we were going to do with the house or how it was going to get fixed," she said.

The family quickly applied for assistance through FEMA.

According to data compiled by the agency, 7,372 households in Victoria County are eligible for housing programs through FEMA. Those housing programs include placing those affected in apartments, hotels or mobile homes.

The agency has been working with the Texas General Land Office to assist hurricane victims, said Robert Porreca, a media relations specialist with FEMA.

"The objective is to put survivors in a safe and sanitary place for them to live while they work on recovering," Porreca said.

The cost of housing and other disaster-related expenses in the county totaled more than $12.4 million, he said.

To qualify for direct housing, a household has to have at least $17,000 in damages, Porreca said. Five families in Victoria County are recipients of direct housing, according to data listed by FEMA on the Rebuild Texas website. Porreca was not sure how many more are expected to be placed in direct housing.

The housing is paid for by FEMA, Porreca said, and delivered and furnished for the family. Once families have rebuilt their homes, the trailers are then returned to the government.

Hernandez and Estrada hoped for the best with the agency after being homeless for more than a month following Harvey. All that was left of their home was what they took to the shelter with them – a bag of clothes and their vehicle.

"Everything that was in our home had to be destroyed. The furniture and clothes had to be burned because they were covered in mold," Hernandez said.

After the family applied, they waited a few weeks to be approved for a trailer. When the trailer arrived at the end of October, it was a welcome sight for the family. However, the family had to wait for the septic system, water and electricity to be hooked up to the trailer.

Hernandez’s parents, who live on the same property in Mission Valley, helped patch up the family’s home as best as they could as the family waited to move into the FEMA trailer.

They finally moved into their trailer at the end of December, but the waiting period was not pleasant, Hernandez said.

"It was so cold in the house in December. Those days that were even more cold – it was just hard living in the room without a real roof," Estrada, 28, said.

The family was issued a three-bedroom, two-bathroom trailer for 18 months. The family is waiting for funds to come through from FEMA so they can rebuild their home. Their home had to be gutted, Hernandez said, and repairs include flooring, insulation and roofing.

"We’re basically starting from scratch," she said.

For now, Hernandez said, she is glad her family is in a house and hopes they will be back in their home this year. Things are starting to look better for the family.

"We’re hopeful," Hernandez said.

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