What To Do, And How To Help: For Ike’s Victims And The People Who Care

Hurricane Ike didn’t spare many in it’s path. Young, old, rich, poor…Ike didn’t discriminate much. Yet, the majority of those whose very livelihoods have been blown away by Ike are working class folks, or are on fixed incomes. Tourism helps maintain the tax base of many Gulf Coast communities, a base that demands a service industry. Those jobs, (and many who would fill them) are gone, at least for now. Shrimpers, rice field workers, trawlers, migrant farmers, and fast food workers don’t have any other means of support. The oyster bays of the Gulf have been decimated, and you don’t grow those back overnight. Or over decades.

Over one million evacuated, and many are now without residences or jobs. Over 22,000 are still in shelters in Texas. Most of these people are hard workers who want to take care of their families. The sheltered are also often disabled, more likely to be people of color, children or single mothers.

The mainstream media has quickly turned it’s attention to “Hurricane Wall Street” and is fast growing tired of the story of Hurricane Ike. Fortunately, the Houston media is large, and is not walking away from the devastation on the doorstep. The Houston Chronicle, ABC’s Channel 13, and the KHOU community are among those going above and beyond just reporting the news. They have a wealth of information and support provided for the Ike-ravaged community, including ABC channel 13’s “Ike Locator” for the missing, and KHOU’s forums where everything community-related is discussed- for ALL affected counties. The “report damage” forums are divided into geographic areas, and this is where you can really get a good picture of what’s going on from those who are living through it. Southeast Texas’ (Beaumont area) Channel 4 has had excellent coverage as well.

The displaced and disconnected need the help. FEMA officials have the “goal” of getting the sheltered into temporary housing, but there are reports that the vouchers FEMA has issued some people for hotel/motel lodging have been refused by those motels because either (a) there was no clearance with the business from FEMA or (b) the people applying for the vouchers failed to make a second confirmation phone call. Welcome to the clusterfuck.

In order to get transitional housing, FEMA will have to “determine that the applicant’s house was not only damaged by Ike, but has to be deemed inaccessible and uninhabitable.” Wonder how long that will take? Ask someone in a Katrina trailer.

More than 400,000 people statewide have registered for FEMA assistance, and about 135,500 families have qualified for government-funded hotels, but apparently only 9,000 have received transitional vouchers. Why is this not a surprise? The Department Of Homeland Security, FEMA’s parent, is run by an attorney. Michael Chertoff can’t argue with, litigate, or legislate away a hurricane. Hurricanes are messy, and dealing with the aftermath means dealing with local officials, industries, charities, truckers, food banks, hotels, churches…you get the picture. Cherty’s not a real people person. Sigh. So, here are some important things to know if you’ve been upended by Ike.

Click Here For Unemployment/Disaster Unemployment Assistance

To register with FEMA: call 1-800-621-3362, TTY 1-800-462-7585 or visit www.FEMA.gov (most public libraries offer free internet access).

Dealing With FEMA:
• It will take approximately 15 minutes to complete the application process. Only one family member per household should register. Before you call or go online, gather the following basic information to speed the process:
• Social Security numbers (including your spouse’s);
• Daytime telephone number where applicant can be reached;
• Address of the damaged property;
• Current mailing address;
• Brief description of disaster-related damages and losses;
• Insurance information; and
• Direct deposit information to help speed delivery of funds.
• If you have losses that are covered by insurance, please contact your insurance company prior to calling FEMA; it could speed up FEMA’s delivery of assistance for any remaining uninsured essential items for which you may be eligible.
• When the home becomes accessible for inspection, you should notify FEMA through the helpline at 800-621-3362 or by visiting a Disaster Recovery Center. FEMA may provide additional assistance after the home has been inspected. If an applicant is denied assistance, the Helpline can also assist in an appeal of that decision.


Galveston has now decided to allow residents to return as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, September 24, in a staged, tightly-monitored and structured fashion. It remains to be seen if this will prevent the chaos of the botched “Look and Leave” of last week. Only those who live behind the seawall will be allowed to stay. Residents who live in the West End can check on their property, but must leave before curfew begins at 6 p.m. Violators risk a $2,000 fine. Every resident will be stopped at a checkpoint and given an information sheet, letting them know what to expect and who to contact.
• The West End has no water. The East End has compromised water supplies, not enough to fight fires, and if the water line extends above an electrical outlet or switch, turning on that switch will cause a fire which cannot be stopped.
• Gas service to every home has been turned off. City Manager LeBlanc says residents need to contact a technician with their gas provider to arrange for service to be returned.
• Residents will have to sort and bag their own debris and trash.
• Very little retail is open.
• LeBlanc urged residents to re-consider bringing young children and the elderly in the city, given its condition. He also advised residents who plan to clean up their property to bring rubber gloves and face masks to protect them from the mold. What he didn’t elaborate on, but should also be considered, is that asbestos could be present in the debris…and can cause lung cancer. Decaying fish and animals may also be in the debris, with the potential for spreading disease. Mosquitoes are bad. They have been spraying, but you should DEFINITELY use a good insect repellent; Avon Skin-so-soft and citronella are not gonna stop these suckers.

On the Bolivar Peninsula, the official search and rescue has ended. Officials plan to allow residents back to the peninsula next week to examine their property. Because the main road is impassible in many spots, they’ll load people up in dump trucks and other heavy vehicles. The Peninsula looks like Hiroshima. There may not be much to clean up, depending on where your house was, but disease potential is high. Bring protective gear like what is listed above.

About 1.4 million customers remain without power in the state of Texas, including about half of Houston. Utility providers say:
• CenterPoint: 46% out
• Entergy Texas: 29% out
• Sam Houston: 35% out
• TNMP: 24% out

There is a rumor that “If you’re out of power for five days, FEMA will pay you $2,000” . This appears to be false. The Houston Chronicle says “The FEMA Web site shows no indication that they are cutting checks for ANY amount of money due to Hurricane Ike, much less $2,000, nor is the agency offering any money to people because their homes have lost power.” Translation…the check is NOT in the mail from FEMA.

Tips to protect your home from power surge- from the Chronicle:

“When the lights go on, it will be unexpected, the lucky ones with power say. Here are some tips to be prepared so you don’t blow it when the lights go on in your neighborhood:
• Unplug it NOW: Unplug all appliances, especially sensitive electronics such as computers, plasma televisions. Turn off air conditioners. New homes with electric water heaters sometimes have switches. Turn those off. When power first arrives in crowded neighborhoods, a short-term overload is possible. That can damage electronics.
• Breaker box: Stay away. Those boxes are often poorly marked and messing with the main breaker can cause more trouble than it’s worth when the power goes on.
• Take it slowly: Leave one light on. But once power is up, plug in small appliances first. Then switch on the bigger ones. Finally, turn on the air conditioner.
• Check your connections: Energy companies are responsible for the system until it hits your home or business. The rest is up to you. Check the connections from the wires to the house. If there is a problem, call an electrician.
• Be mindful of dangers: Just because the power is on in your home, does not mean all is right in the entire world. Just yours. Remember to stay away from low hanging or downed power lines. Assume they are dangerous.
• Dig carefully: It’s not just about the electricity. Gas lines are also a concern. Underground lines can be disturbed by well meaning maintenance efforts. Before digging holes in the ground to fix a fence, make sure the underground utility lines are marked. You are required to call 811 for the service that will mark the lines. Remember, there may be a wait for this service.”

For evacuees returning to their homes, these are some tips on what to bring back- especially if you’re returning to a home with no power:
• Water. Buy bottled water for drinking and fill up jugs for sanitation.
• Gasoline. Lines can be very long, and fuel is in short supply.
• Ice. Fill up a cooler.
• Non-perishable food. Some supermarkets are open, but lines are long.
• Batteries.
• Flashlights.
• Candles.
• Matches.
• Prescription refills.
• Baby wipes and hand sanitizer.
• Cleaning supplies.
• Charged cell phone and laptop, plus a car charger for electronics.
• Disposable camera to document damage for insurance.
• Written list of important phone numbers.
• Extra towels, socks and underwear. Even if your water is on, washing machines need power to run.

A Chronicle commenter shared these tips as well, and they’re very good.

1. Disposable latex gloves to wear under work gloves.
2. Large clear and black garbage bags. Clear means save, black means throw away. (This is invaluable because everything is covered in mud – so items and piles become indistinguishable)
3. Small kitchen garbage bags (prior water,sewage, etc. – put under toilet seat , then tie and throw away.
4. Sense of humor. Find a stuffed animal and set it on an upholstered chair in your yard – any kind of trashy yard art like that (a) helps you find your home when trash is 8′ high and (b) lifts spirits. We put a big stuffed bunny on a Harley.
5. Have a watch or alarm set for every 60 min to take a water break.
6. Take 6 million pictures.
7. When in doubt or really sad about something – keep it, every heirloom doesn’t have to be thrown away today; some can be rescued, or thrown away later. CDs can be washed off, or you may not be ready.
8. Find out from state about generator, power washer allotments. You will need both if you are going to clean up. This is not the time to go off brand – get one from Lowes or Home Depot or someplace to which it can be returned if it doesn’t work.
10. What you need in the beginning are people with lots of upper body strength (young, strong) ripping up carpet and tearing out walls, etc. calls for that. Someone with less strength can take pictures (take 2 of everything from different angles, take the ceilings, etc.)
11. Have a picture pile. People brought things out by wheelbarrow and I took pictures before we put in the 8′ trash piles. This is so crucial for insurance – both flood, FEMA, etc.
12. Apply for all the help you can get. Don’t worry, if you are not eligible you won’t get any. This is a good job for the person who doesn’t have a lot of upper body strength.
13. You need a bag with Social Security cards, driver licenses, electric bills, mortgage papers, insurance papers. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were great. Go early in the process and early in the morning! Take a book to read and plan to be there 4 hours.”

If you are returning home to assess damage
, Texas Watch, a statewide consumer advocacy organization active in insurance, nursing home resident protection, patient protection and consumer law issues has this EXCELLENT advice:

• Take Documentation.
• Make a comprehensive inventory of the household items lost in the storm, and keep receipts from emergency repairs and temporary housing costs.
• Track Communications with Your Insurance Company.
• Keep a log of all communications with your insurance carrier, including anytime they fail to return a call or miss a scheduled appointment.
• Be Careful What You Sign.
• Do not sign anything you do not fully understand. Make sure all documents are explained thoroughly so that you know what you are signing and how it will affect your claim.
• Ask for Proof.
• If your insurer tells you that you are not covered, require them to offer proof. The burden is on the carrier to point to the exclusion in your policy.
• Complain if Necessary.
• If you believe that you are being treated unfairly by your insurance carrier, file a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance and/or the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Contact Texas Watch’s Ike Insurance Hotline at (888) 738-4226 for assistance in filing complaints. (Monday-Friday, 9-5 CDT) This toll free hotline will be the clearinghouse of information and a way to compile information about potential insurance abuse.
Texas Watch can’t directly solve your insurance problems. However, it will monitor complaints and refer them to the appropriate government agencies, such as the Texas Department of Insurance and the Texas Attorney General’s office.

Tens of thousands of cattle and hundreds of horses have died or are dying as a result of consuming salt-contaminated grass and water. In addition, Hurricane Ike busted up more than 90 percent of livestock fencing in Orange, Jefferson and Chambers counties. It is an incredible problem.

Owners of livestock may contact their local emergency management officials, or call the Texas Animal Health Commission at 1-800-550-8242 extension 296.

If you would like to help with the care of farm animals in need, you can:
• Offer financial donations through Texas A&M’s Texas AgriLife Extension Service at their website or by calling 979-845-2604. They are setting up horse and cattle feed donation and distribution sites.
• Contact the Texas Department of Agriculture at their Hay Hotline or call 1-800-Tell-TDA to sell or donate animal feed, hay, or other resources such as feed and water troughs.

The Red Cross is always a good place to help those in need. Right now, those affected by Hurricane Ike are some of the neediest people in our country. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or visit www.redcross.org to donate. You may designate a local chapter (usually county-named i.e: Orange chapter) for your donation if you so desire.

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